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Signs promoting Rexall pharmacy's new points program are photographed at a Rexall store in Toronto, on Sept., 9, 2020.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Rexall has launched a new loyalty program in a bid to compete for customers as drugstore chains offer more health care services in their stores.

The retailer had partnered with the Air Miles loyalty program in its stores for 20 years. The launch of its own program, called “Be Well,” is aimed at giving Rexall access to more data on its shoppers so it can develop more personalized marketing offers and provide more services to customers, in addition to rewards points.

The services planned in the mobile application include a record of the user’s medication and vaccination histories, test results from any lab that partners with Rexall to share information; digital fitness-tracking tools such as heart rate and step counters; and virtual consultations.

“People accessing care in different ways is a trend that is here to stay, and is continuing to grow,” said Rebecca McKillican, chief executive officer of McKesson Canada. Its parent company, Texas-based McKesson Corp., a large distributor of drugs to pharmacies, acquired Rexall in 2016. “… We’re continuing to accelerate that trend, because people are looking at health and wellness, not just to address acute issues, but for prevention.”

McKesson owns 414 Rexall stores as well as 2,360 pharmacies under banners including IDA, Guardian, Uniprix and others. It also operates, a growing e-commerce business. Be Well is launching at only Rexall for now.

The Rexall program will go up against the well-established PC Optimum program of its biggest competitor, Shoppers Drug Mart, which is owned by Loblaw Companies Ltd. Shoppers has built its program for years, and it offers targeted promotions based on customers' buying habits.

More broadly, the Rexall program is part of an industry-wide push for pharmacies to take a bigger role in health care. Shoppers Drug Mart has offered cosmetic dentistry and dermatology services at some locations, and recently opened a medical clinic in Toronto, the Health Clinic by Shoppers. London Drugs offers services in its stores such as nutrition consultation and osteoporosis screening. McKesson-owned pharmacies such as Guardian, Rexall and IDA, as well as competitors London Drugs and Shoppers, have offered COVID-19 testing in Alberta.

“What [Rexall] is recognizing is they can’t out-retail Canada’s largest retailer," said Jim Danahy, CEO of retail consultancy CustomerLAB. “They’d better compete on a health care basis.”

Rexall says its research has shown the pandemic has increased Canadians' willingness to use digital health care services.

“It’s not just about rewards and points,” Rexall president Nicolas Caprio said.

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