Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens, which had delayed its site launch since September, will offer full-service ordering and delivery for all prescriptions and provide a link to the health-advice site Mayo Clinic, according to Walgreens spokeswoman. The site previously offered only prescription refills to Walgreens customers.
"By building this site internally, we were able to fully integrate our online pharmacy with Walgreens' retail pharmacy computer system," company president David Bernauer said in a statement. "This will offer patients seamless service whether a prescription is filled in a store, online, or by our mail service facilities."
But Walgreens has lagged behind moving to the Internet and will find a crowded field of competitors, such as CVS, PlanetRX, and Drugstore.com, which have already sunk deep into the online pharmacy business.
"First-mover advantage is critical, important, and impressive," said Jupiter analyst Claudine Singer.
Walgreens' rival CVS jumped onto the Internet in May when it bought Soma.com. This month, the company announced it had cut a deal with Merck-Medco, the No. 1 pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), to give its online site access to Merck-Medco's 51 million members.
But Singer says that Walgreens, with its huge number of stores and recognized brand name, should not be discounted no matter how late it is in getting online.
"They just have so much buying power, so much penetration in the offline world, and will definitely make huge ripples in the online pharmacy business," Singer said. "They are such a trusted name and I think that in the health business, getting things right maybe more important than being first."
Walgreens, which gets about half its $15.3 billion in annual sales from prescriptions, will offer a host of other services, such as allowing customers to access their personal prescription history and provide information on potential drug interactions.