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The competition to watch: CVS vs. Walgreens

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One could argue, with some degree of logic and certainty, that the most intriguing and significant competition in today’s mass retail community is the duel between Walmart and Amazon. Certainly the stakes are high — with the two retailers occupying the very top rungs of the retail ladder.

Then, too, each approaches the market in sharply divergent ways: The former believes in the retail shopping experience, the idea that few activities surpass the in-store excitement of interacting with the merchandise, while the latter openly expresses disdain for an “unnecessary” trip to the store when ordering online is so much simpler and so less time consuming.

While compelling, this competitive debate over superiority and, ultimately, victory is not the most exciting game in town. That award goes to the battle between CVS and Walgreens, a fight for health care supremacy that will likely shape the retail drug store marketplace for the foreseeable future.

Each of these two world-class retailers has lots going for it. For openers, both CVS and Walgreens have recently welcomed as a new generation of top managers leaders who, while new to chain drug retailing, are experienced in what it is all about: competition. More than that, neither management team is burdened by that old and tired axiom: We’ve always done it that way. Why change now?

As a result, each retailer brings a brand new bag of retail tricks to the marketplace. Take CVS, for example. Can it still be labeled a drug chain? Or a retailer of any kind? Probably not. CVS today is all about health care. And its retail stores are merely portals to the larger and more lucrative health care community.

Walgreens remains more nearly a drug store chain than CVS. But the retailer is busy exploring new opportunities within the drug store marketplace, opportunities that the industry would have labeled foolhardy a generation ago. But unencumbered by previous managers and past decisions, the Deerfield, Ill.-based retailer is plunging ahead, exploring ways to attract and retain customers that would once have been labeled absurd — and self-defeating.

But what makes this competitive duel most intriguing is that each of these two retailers openly acknowledges the strengths of the other. Thus, CVS staffers are sometimes profuse in their respect for Walgreens. And Walgreens personnel demonstrate equally high regard for the strength and customer loyalty that CVS has continued to engender even while remaking its organization into a health care behemoth.

So it is that both drug chains continue to open new stores, remodel older ones and cast wary but respectful eyes toward the other. And each is aware of the growing strength of regional drug chains, the increasing knowledge and power of supermarket retailers, the omnipresence of both Walmart and Amazon, and the always lurking possibility that some new player, yet unknown and uncounted, will emerge to throw both CVS and Walgreens off their games.

Meanwhile, stay tuned. CVS versus Walgreens is what chain drug retailing, and the larger mass retailing, community has always been about: competition. In the past, the better combatant has usually won. This time around, however, it’s still too early to tell, not only who will win but who deserves to win.

This much is certain, however: The mass retailing community is better because CVS and Walgreens are part of it.

One could argue, with some degree of logic and certainty, that the most intriguing and significant competition in today’s mass retail community is the duel between Walmart and Amazon. Certainly the stakes are high — with the two retailers occupying the very top rungs of the retail ladder.

Then, too, each approaches the market in sharply divergent ways: The former believes in the retail shopping experience, the idea that few activities surpass the in-store excitement of interacting with the merchandise, while the latter openly expresses disdain for an “unnecessary” trip to the store when ordering online is so much simpler and so less time consuming.

While compelling, this competitive debate over superiority and, ultimately, victory is not the most exciting game in town. That award goes to the battle between CVS and Walgreens, a fight for health care supremacy that will likely shape the retail drug store marketplace for the foreseeable future.

Each of these two world-class retailers has lots going for it. For openers, both CVS and Walgreens have recently welcomed as a new generation of top managers leaders who, while new to chain drug retailing, are experienced in what it is all about: competition. More than that, neither management team is burdened by that old and tired axiom: We’ve always done it that way. Why change now?

As a result, each retailer brings a brand new bag of retail tricks to the marketplace. Take CVS, for example. Can it still be labeled a drug chain? Or a retailer of any kind? Probably not. CVS today is all about health care. And its retail stores are merely portals to the larger and more lucrative health care community.

Walgreens remains more nearly a drug store chain than CVS. But the retailer is busy exploring new opportunities within the drug store marketplace, opportunities that the industry would have labeled foolhardy a generation ago. But unencumbered by previous managers and past decisions, the Deerfield, Ill.-based retailer is plunging ahead, exploring ways to attract and retain customers that would once have been labeled absurd — and self-defeating.

But what makes this competitive duel most intriguing is that each of these two retailers openly acknowledges the strengths of the other. Thus, CVS staffers are sometimes profuse in their respect for Walgreens. And Walgreens personnel demonstrate equally high regard for the strength and customer loyalty that CVS has continued to engender even while remaking its organization into a health care behemoth.

So it is that both drug chains continue to open new stores, remodel older ones and cast wary but respectful eyes toward the other. And each is aware of the growing strength of regional drug chains, the increasing knowledge and power of supermarket retailers, the omnipresence of both Walmart and Amazon, and the always lurking possibility that some new player, yet unknown and uncounted, will emerge to throw both CVS and Walgreens off their games.

Meanwhile, stay tuned. CVS versus Walgreens is what chain drug retailing, and the larger mass retailing, community has always been about: competition. In the past, the better combatant has usually won. This time around, however, it’s still too early to tell, not only who will win but who deserves to win.

This much is certain, however: The mass retailing community is better because CVS and Walgreens are part of it.


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