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Walgreens: Expanding Customer Loyalty with Microservices

MichaelE
Jan 26, 2017

Not too long ago, if a big brand wanted to implement an omnichannel customer rewards program, it was a little like gathering 1,000 or so of your closest friends for a particularly epic and elaborate mannequin challenge video—it was logistically daunting, and beholden to so many moving pieces that a hiccup or proposed change anywhere in the chain could bring the whole thing crashing down.

Needless to say, that old approach limited what brands could do, and who was willing to partner with them. With its microservices strategy, powered by Apigee Edge, Walgreens is showing that those limits no longer apply.

Microservices break up the complexity of a full, rich application into a series of discrete services connected through APIs. This approach enables different teams to move at different speeds without affecting one another. It also standardizes communication between software elements and promotes reusability of resources, among other benefits.

“Microservices are a new way of thinking,” Walgreens developer evangelist Drew Schweinfurth told us recently, noting that the approach helped the drugstore giant make its “services as light as possible and easy to develop on.”

The benefits of Walgreens’ approach to microservices and APIs are clear. The company now works with more than 275 partners. Its prescription refill API, which lets developers integrate Walgreens prescription services into their apps, fills a prescription every second. Partner integrations that would previously have taken months now take as little as hours.

Breaking down Balance Rewards

To explain the benefits of microservices, Schweinfurth singled out the company’s Balance® Rewards program. Launched in 2014, it enables third-party apps to connect to Walgreens customer data and award individual customers Walgreens rewards points for various activities, such as walking or running. As of April, the service had attracted more than 800,000 users across 250,000 connected devices, and doled out nearly 2 billion rewards points.

With Balance® Rewards, Walgreens wanted to simplify all the “moving pieces” at work in its loyalty system, Schweinfurth said.

“Let’s just scrap that whole idea,” he said of the old architecture. “Let’s build an OAuth login that allows customers to login through third-party applications,” and lets developers use an API to “make POST requests on behalf of the activity data that’s happening inside of the third party’s application, in turn giving that customer reward points for allowing that connection to happen.”

The end result: If a customer connects, say, a step-counting app to her Walgreens account, that customer will earn rewards points as she walks or runs. For the customer, it’s an incentive to be healthy and a reward for being a Walgreens customer. For the brand, it’s a way to improve experiences for both customers and partners while expanding Walgreens’ digital presence into other companies’ products and online experiences.

The key, Schweinfurth said, is that even though an app’s overall customer experience is rich, individual services are “tiny.”

“Send over my step data. Send over my blood glucose or my blood pressure. And then [give me] rewards,” he said. “[That] is how we look at building a microservice.”

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