Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA -1.19%) has a new plan to assist its customers with social distancing and help slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has already infected at least 82,000 Americans. The company will begin allowing customers to pick up some of its non-prescription items at its drive-thru prescription pick up windows. 

Drive-thru services have always been a double-edged sword for Walgreens and other retail pharmacy chains. Given that their bottom lines rely heavily on what they call "front-end" sales -- items like snacks, over-the-counter medicines, and household products --- they'd prefer customers enter their stores, where they'll be more likely to see and purchase such products along with their prescriptions.

Healthcare providers in a stock room.

Image source: Getty Images.

During the three months ended Nov. 30, Walgreens' U.S. retail sales were down 2% year over year to $6.4 billion. That works out to around 19% of total revenue recorded during the period.

Now, Walgreens customers can purchase more than 60 front-end products at more than 7,300 pharmacy drive-thrus nationwide, among them cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and baby formula.

On-the-spot service

Customers don't need to plan ahead and order online before coming to pick up their orders. As long as the drive-thru isn't too busy, Walgreens pharmacy technicians will go and fetch your non-pharmaceutical items while you wait at the window.

If there's already a line of cars waiting for service, though, you'll probably need to take a slow lap around the building before receiving your order.