Walgreens picks Theatro for voice-based digital transformation

Digital transformation is going to be very big business soon, and Theatro might have signed one of the most promising deals in this nascent market, with Walgreens picking its voice-enabled platform to be deployed in 9,560 stores – with 1,000 done in the first year.

The Theatro system is aimed at Walgreen’s hourly workforce, who ensure that the ‘drug stores,’ a mix of pharmacy and grocers, run smoothly. The platform requires a mobile device, which remains curiously unspecified at the moment, which will then allow for voice commands that should let works cooperate and solve customer problems while on the go.

Queries and quick searches should be simple enough, but more complex functions are going to require a lot more integration. The announcement talks of connections to the enterprise network, but we can’t see many employees taking the time to book holiday, query payslips, or file grievances while on the move.

It should be easier for managers to keep tabs on and check in with workers through such a system, although perhaps the logical extension of this is to replace the expensive manager with an AI-based tool and leverage the cheap labor until we can roll out a completely robotic store. Japan has had some success with such stores on a very small scale, although they are perhaps better described as very large vending machines, rather than small stores.

“One of the largest challenges retail teams face is the disparate and ad-hoc communication methods traditionally used to reach large numbers of store team members,” said Chris Todd, CEO, Theatro. “Through our innovative voice Intelligent Assistant and broad suite of workflow and collaboration apps, Walgreens is empowered to improve store execution and labor productivity by leveraging the power of AI native to our platform.”

The sorts of applications that this should improve worker productivity in will center around inventory, as the platform should know the location of an item within the store with certainty. This should mean that works can quickly lead customers to items within the store, query stock levels, recommend alternatives, or even facilitate upselling opportunities. For the worker, it might mean a less stressful encounter, as they should (key word) be able to rely on the solve the customer’s problem in a satisfactory manner.

At a corporate scale, this could mean thousands of man-hours saved in wasted time, as employees go looking for items in the wrong places, or perhaps as improved customer happiness, lower churn, or increased spend-per-visit. Theatro’s library of 80 voice-enabled applications are central to the proposition, but a whole heap of back-end integrations are also quite important.

Theatro brands the platform as a SaaS mobile IoT solution, providing access to new collaboration apps and existing enterprise ones. It provides workers with a free ‘IoT voice-controlled computer and Intelligent Assistant,’ which we still can’t find an actual photo of, perhaps because it knows we would probably poke fun at it.

Either way, Theatro has a number of case studies listed on its website, for your perusal. One outlines a retailer with 90 stores and $785mn in revenue. Using the system, it achieved a $4.5mn increase in revenue (0.57% of annual revenue), $3mn in operating cost reductions (0.38%), and saved an estimated 20,000 hours annually (around $240,000, if you’re paying $12/hour, or maybe 0.03% of annual revenue).

So collectively, that retailer achieved just under 1% of its annual revenue in savings – nothing to sniff at, but also not much to write home about. Other examples paint a rosier picture. One $800mn retailer with 67 stores used Theatro to power a new buy-online pay in-store (BOPIS) system that achieved a 1% uptick in revenue and a 134% return on investment. Better training and onboarding is another improvement cited.

There is also the customer-centric angle to consider. Theatro reports that 72% of customers apparently expect sales associates to be able to check stock levels from a mobile device, and 67% expect them to be able to provide specs and product features from these devices.

“As we transform our stores into modern neighborhood health destinations, it’s critical that we enable our store teams to enhance the experience for customers and patients,” said Richard Ashworth, President of Operations, Walgreens. “Technology solutions like Theatro allow us to communicate the changes we’re making directly and regularly with our team members, keeping them up-to-date and able to continue to offer great customer service.”