How the Pandemic Amplified Bartell Drugs’ Commitment to Outstanding Customer Service

Since opening its first store in 1890 in Seattle, WA, Bartell Drugs has expanded to 67 stores and pharmacy locations in the Pacific Northwest. And while the business has evolved a lot over the past 130 years, two things have remained consistent: an unwavering commitment to exceptional customer service and a steadfast dedication to providing innovative products and services.

These two guiding principles have been particularly evident over the past year, as the company has gone above and beyond to meet customer needs while developing new offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We spoke with Kari Escobedo, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Bartell Drugs, to discuss what makes the business unique, how the company has responded to challenges during the pandemic, as well as some exciting developments on the horizon.


Tell me about yourself and your role at Bartell Drugs

Kari: I’ve been at Bartell Drugs for about two and a half years. I was brought in to help the company take advantage of technology to drive the business forward. Coming from multiple industries, my background really brings forth, ‘How do we leverage that technology in different ways to be able to surprise and delight our customers, as well as take care of our employees in ways that make them more efficient in serving our customers?’


What sets Bartell Drugs apart from other pharmacies?

Kari: “We’re very quick to respond. We can be nimble in ways that some of the larger companies can’t be. Because we are a little smaller, both the technology teams and our business teams can collaborate and come up with quick solutions, turning them around quickly. Sometimes when you’re smaller, you can be more creative, try things out quickly, fail fast, tweak it and then try something else. I think that really sets us apart.

But we can’t do this with just our teams. The ability to turn something around quickly also depends on our partners. With Magstar’s help, we’re launching a new capability for contactless payments. Soon our customers will be a little safer if they choose to use contactless payments – like PayPal and Venmo – versus touching a PIN pad.”


You mentioned the importance of partnerships. Can you discuss your experience working with Magstar Total Point of Sale? What do you value most about that relationship?

Kari: “They’re willing to partner and be open when we may not know how to do something yet, but we’re going to figure it out. That willingness to figure it out with us has been a key differentiator when it comes to our relationship with Magstar. Their flexibility has been good.”


How do you differentiate your business in a competitive landscape?

Kari: “It’s about the relationships that our long-term employees, both in the pharmacy and at the front of stores, build with our customers. There are relationships where people have been Bartell customers through their family’s generations. I think that sets us apart from a lot of other pharmacies where it’s more transactional – we look at things as being driven by long-term relationships.”


During the pandemic, how has Magstar helped improve your customer service experience?

Kari: “We’re able to launch more contactless payment options with the help of Magstar. I think that is where we’re really seeing some additional enhancements that will directly help during the pandemic.

With our normal day-to-day stuff, Magstar turns things around quickly for us – things that come up and small enhancements. We haven’t seen any stutters or stops with that support, and I think that in itself is pretty remarkable given that it’s a challenging time, across the board, for everyone.”


What about the feedback you get from your floor staff about the Magstar Total POS solution and their experience using it?

Kari: “They have been very complimentary about how easy it is to use. They’ve run on this system for a long time, so they are very comfortable with it. Over the last two years, we have made more changes to the Magstar POS system that makes their lives easier.”


Have there been any unique challenges during the pandemic where Magstar really stepped up to the plate to help your team out?

Kari: “During protests here in Seattle some of our stores were broken into. There was damage to a number of our store systems – POS systems, cash drawers and PIN pads. We called Magstar for help and they dropped other things so that we were able to get those stores back open and operational the next day, which is pretty remarkable.”


What are Bartell’s goals right now?

Kari: “Our goals, as they have always been, are to serve our customers and our patients well and to continue to support them in the ways they need to survive this pandemic.

Adding capabilities, like delivery, buy online pick-up in-store, contactless payments or COVID testing for travellers – those are ways that we can enhance our customers’ experience and give them an opportunity to do more things in our stores so they don’t have to go to as many stores.”


How is Magstar helping you achieve your goals?

Kari: “Day-to-day, they keep our POS systems running. Over the last two years, we have worked with Magstar to migrate to a cloud-based architecture. We needed them to help us create the right architecture and the right support model for us to provide consistency, resiliency, and business continuity to our stores. Magstar’s willingness to move in that direction was critical, even if we were the only ones at first asking for it because that has helped keep our stores up and running at all times – we don’t have any downtime now.”


In what ways do you feel that the Magstar software solution is different from Tier One software packages?

Kari: “Our ability to partner closely with Magstar and have changes made to the solution that are fully supportable in a much quicker turnaround is quite different from what you would get from some of the larger Tier One POS solutions.”


What would you say to someone who is considering Magstar Total POS solution for their retail business?

Kari: “For small and midsize companies that are evaluating Magstar as a POS solution, I think the partnership you can build and the flexibility in the solution to meet your business needs is why you should choose Magstar.”