I Have Seen the Future of Retail

We’ve had a lot of occasions in this space to ponder “the end of retail,” and in my real life I’ve had plenty of opportunities to visit the shopping dystopia known as CVS. Now I’ve seen the future, and it’s name is Walgreens. Specifically the new flagship Walgreens at the corner of 7th and H Northwest in the District of Columbia. It’s a magical place that paints the way forward for retailers and, indeed, the entire American economy.

There’s a solid foundation, on the ground floor, of sandwiches and other prepared foods for you to enjoy. But it also features fresh fruit and cheese.

For a little fun, you can enjoy the snazzy-looking frozen yogurt machines and extensive topping dispensers.

Lurking around the corner there’s baked goods and even more fruit.

The store is all about the use of technology. There’s an ATM (of course) to replace your bank and a Redbox to replace your video store but also a futuristic soda fountain capable of dispensing any kind of Coca-Cola product.

But it’s downstairs where things really take off. You check in here at their clinic to get your health care needs taken care of. And this is not like a lame doctor’s office, which is only open during times when you need to be at work. They open at 8 a.m. and don’t close until 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, and are open 9:30 to 5:30 on weekends. A nurse practitioner will see you for a range of vaccinations and basic checkups, while also treating lots of routine medical issues ranging from colds and bronchitis to sprained ankles and minor burns. Chicken pox? Done. Head lice? Done. And since it’s a drug store, you can get your prescription filled just steps away.

They’ve got neat little exam rooms with all the fixins and of course your basic drug-store stuff like toothpaste and a broad selection of condoms to help undermine the traditional linkage between sex and procreation.

Greeting cards and random electronics, too. There was even a staffer equipped with an iPad to help answer your questions. If you want a product they don’t carry, she’ll use her iPad to search for a close equivalent that they do have. She told me she’s already used it twice in the past week to help clients who don’t speak English translate their requests so she can help them find what they need.

Upstairs is basically a woman-focused range of beauty products, similar to what you’d find in a regular drug store but much more extensive.

Then in the corner there are tables where they do manicures! Again, a perfect blend of traditional retail functions with personal services that can’t be done online.

Unlike most D.C. drug stores, Walgreens is licensed to sell beer and wine. The wine selection looks pretty much like cheapo stuff as best I can tell (though I do like that they have air travel-sized wine bottles), but the beer selection is respectable and they carry natty light for the college kids.

In terms of frozen foods, they have the usual Hot Pockets dreck but also upscale brands like the Amy’s Organic frozen burritos that I used to subsist on before I learned how to cook.

Best of all, it was full of customers, so here’s hoping more first-rate outlets like this open up around the city and the country.