Retail Wellness: Big Boxes and Pharmacies Move into Healthcare

Image: CVS

As consumers prioritize health and wellness, retailers are trying to capitalize on the trend. From wellness hubs to primary care clinics, the retail landscape is shifting.

The doctor will see you in aisle 3. Retailers are hoping you’ll stop by for groceries — and maybe a visit to the doctor’s office.

  • Walmart has launched over a dozen primary care clinics offering in-store diagnostics and even dentistry services.
  • Walgreens partnered with VillageMD last year to put primary care clinics in 500–700 drugstores over the next five years.
  • CVS bought Aetna for $70B in 2018 and has rolled out hundreds of in-store “HealthHUBs” and virtual primary care programs.

Drugstore therapy. As the digital mental health market booms, retailers are honing in, offering therapy in store or online.

  • CVS began employing licensed social workers at its pharmacies.
  • Walgreens connects its customers to BetterHelp and Sanvello therapists.
  • Rite Aid is piloting teletherapy in “virtual care rooms” at select store locations.
  • Walmart acquired MeMD in May to expand its teletherapy and virtual care capabilities.

Beyond care, Walmart is reportedly working on a stealth health venture, while Dollar General just hired its first Chief Medical Officer and is pushing to “establish itself as a health destination.”

A trillion-dollar battle. Big-box and pharmacy retailers aren’t the first to make a move on healthcare. From Apple to Google to Amazon, Big Tech is racing to capture the $11.9T market.

Big-box retailers, however, are uniquely positioned to transform rural communities, who have been historically underserved by existing healthcare systems. 90% of Americans live within 15 miles of a Walmart and 75% within five miles of a Dollar General.

Their impact could be tremendous, claims Paul Schuhmacher of AArete Consulting:

“They [could be] one of the largest disruptive forces in health care by addressing… access to care in rural communities, price transparency, and even, to some extent, social determinants of health.”

Looking ahead: Many are skeptical of big-box companies taking over their health affairs, especially given past mismanagement of health benefits for their very own workers. COVID-19, however, practically rebranded pharmacies overnight; it may be just the catalyst retailers need to reinvent themselves.

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