New anti-theft Walgreens store has just 2 aisles of touchable merchandise

CHICAGO — During an earnings call with Walgreens investors earlier this year, the company’s chief financial officer opined that his fellow executives may have overstated the effects of organized shoplifting rings on its operations.

“Maybe we cried too much last year,” James Kehoe said.

Good luck balancing that cheery, non-crying analysis with what you see when you walk into the company’s freshly redesigned store at 2 East Roosevelt in downtown Chicago.

In what was once a typical Walgreens, there are now just two short aisles of so-called “essentials” where “customers may shop for themselves.” If you want anything else—a bottle of booze, a deodorant brand deemed “non-essential”—you’ll need to order it at a kiosk and pick it up at the counter.

At the new Walgreens concept store at 2 East Roosevelt in downtown Chicago, this—plus a small bank of refrigerated items behind the camera—is the full selection of merchandise you are allowed to touch. | CWBChicago

After undergoing a few weeks of construction, the store reopened on Tuesday. The pharmacy is in the back and to the left, equipped with a fancy new kiosk system of its own. An employee will teach you how to use it.

To the right, gated by anti-shoplifting devices to protect the inventory, two rows of low-rise shelves offer a very limited selection of those so-called “essentials.” Unlike the tall shelves you’re used to seeing in your neighborhood Walgreens, this store’s shelves are no more than five feet tall, giving everyone a clear look at what everyone else is up to.

A handful of self-serve kiosks allow customers to shop the store’s “full selection” electronically. | CWBChicago

When we visited the one-of-a-kind store on Wednesday morning, two employees were dedicated to the “shop for yourself” section.

But if you want anything other than the very basic of basics, you’ll need to use one of the iPad-like “kiosks,” where a sign invites you to “Let us do the shopping” from the store’s “full selection.”

After placing your order, a plastic-framed sign next to the computer instructs, you should “relax while we shop for you.” When your order is ready, head to the pickup/FedEx/Western Union counter to claim your goods.

Customers claim and pay for their kiosk-ordered purchases at a counter where FedEx and Western Union services are also offered. | CWBChicago

On Thursday, a company spokesperson said Walgreens is “testing a new experience at this store with new concepts, technologies, and practices to enhance the experiences of our customers and team members.”

“It will continue to offer retail products and pharmacy services, just with a new look and feel that focuses on shopping digitally for convenience. Inside the store, customers will find an area where they can pick-up orders, digital kiosks for placing an order, as well as an area to shop for essential items.”

So, how was our visit? Weird.

After browsing both aisles of touchable merchandise, our intrepid reporter decided to buy an ice-cold Coca-Cola, priced at $1.89 or two for $3.

To start the check-out experience, an employee used their name tag to bring one of the self-serve stations to life.

It promptly charged our reporter $2.89 for the $1.89 soda. Plus tax, of course.

The error was quickly remedied with the help of both “shop for yourself” attendants.

Propped on the sidewalk at the corner of State and Roosevelt, a sandwich board boasts that the company has “built a better Walgreens.”

You can judge that for yourself between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

A reader who lives near the Walgreens contacted the company after it shuttered for remodeling, wondering if the store had closed permanently. In mid-May, that reader sent us a copy of the response they said they received.

The response said the store was “undergoing a remodeling effort for Walgreens to test new concepts, technologies and practices aimed at bringing the community a greater convenience and safety for our customers, patients and team members.”

“This redesigned store will have the latest in e-commerce offerings to increase customer service, mitigate theft and increase safety for customers and employees—all the while, continuing to have a full service pharmacy for our patients.”

It went on to say the remodeled store will have “a new look and feel, focused on getting customers to place orders ahead of time digitally at Walgreens.com or in the Walgreens app for in-store Pickup. Customers who don’t place an order in advance will still be able to order in-store by placing orders from our kiosks—with Walgreens team members available to offer assistance.”

The store would also “include an ‘Essentials’ area where customers may shop for themselves from a selection of essential and convenience items.”

“We are targeting re-opening the full store Memorial Day weekend,” it said. The store reopened on Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day.

After this story was published, a Walgreens spokesperson told CWBChicago that she is the only person authorized to speak about the new store and she did not create the letter that our reader received. On Friday, the spokesperson said the letter “was not sent from Walgreens to a customer.”

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com