South Loop Walgreens transforms into ‘test’ store with digital displays, hidden products

The newly renovated location largely relies on digital kiosks that let shoppers order items while an employee pulls the merchandise from behind a counter.

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Pedestrians walking by the Walgreens South Loop location on June 2, 2023.

Pedestrians walk near a newly renovated Walgreens store in South Loop. The “test” location incorporates digital kiosks for customers to place orders while employees “shop” aisles hidden behind a counter.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

Walgreens is testing out a new look at its South Loop location — one that pulls most of its merchandise out of the hands of shoppers.

The newly renovated store at 2 E. Roosevelt Road, which reopened Wednesday, featured a number of self-serve kiosks offering customers a new way to shop, mixing online order pickups and a traditional store layout.

Any semblance of a typical Walgreens could be seen in the two aisles full of over-the-counter medicine, soap, cosmetics, snacks and phone chargers, among other things. That’s because the digital displays overshadow the aisles.

According to signs posted inside, employees “do the shopping” since the majority of its products are behind a counter. And a self-checkout section near the exit create an almost contact-less experience.

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Digital kiosks sit along the wall in Walgreens’ “test” location at 2 E. Roosevelt Road, Friday, June 2, 2023.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

So how does it work? For items not displayed in the aisles, shoppers order at a kiosk or online then wait for staff members to fulfill their request in-store. The pharmacy operates in a similar manner, with kiosks allowing customers to check in while a pharmacist prepares their order.

In a statement Friday to the Sun-Times, Walgreens spokesperson Megan Boyd said the “new look and feel” is part of the company’s “regular tests” to improve the shopping experience, though the location is the only one of its kind.

Irene Webber, a two-year South Loop resident and regular at the store, said the change was “nice” but it would take some “getting used to.” Her biggest gripe: lack of human interaction.

“The old way was good because you’re interacting with the employees, there’s not much of that now,” Webber said. “Just getting to know people in your neighborhood and in your stores … It’s not the interaction you normally have. Other than that, it’s OK.”

Webber said she was concerned about the company cutting jobs with the new system. A representative for Walgreens told the Sun-Times the renovated location has more employees than the average store.

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Taylor Swift fans exit Walgreens’ newly renovated “test” location June 2, 2023, which largely uses digital kiosks to allow customers to place orders while staff members collect the items on shelves behind the counter.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

While the location is a “one store test,” according to Boyd, some customers feel the model could be beneficial on a wider scale.

“I would love to see this more widespread,” said Jared Solis, a UIC student and regular at the store. “It looks cleaner, safer, just more inviting.”

Solis said the store was “kind of weird,” but he liked the new layout, especially compared to how it looked previously. Despite this, he said he was concerned for anyone rushing inside to grab something quickly in an emergency, such as a menstrual product.

“If I’m in a rush, I don’t want to go to the kiosk, order and then wait for it,” Solis said. “There’s cons to every pro.”

Solis wasn’t the only one with safety and security on his mind.

David Cohn, a 27-year-old South Loop resident, said the store had struggled with thefts. He assumed the new layout was a measure to cut back on shoplifting, though a representative for Walgreens said the company was solely focused on shoppers when creating the new design.

Walgreens Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe told investors during its first quarter earnings call the company was thinking about cutting back “a little bit” on its use of private security, which he deemed “largely ineffective” in the face of decreasing thefts from Walgreens stores.

Chicago student Alisson Kruse, adorned in a sequin dress and on her way to the first night of Taylor Swift’s concert, said she was initially confused by the new layout but eventually got the hang of it.

Her concerns mostly had to do with customers being overwhelmed by the concert crowds.

“Once I got through it made sense,” Kruse said. “I did feel bad for all the people in there who were bombarded by girls and glitter.”

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