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Wake up and hear the rewards clamor, CVS

An overwhelming majority of customers want their rewards bucks stored on their CVS cards, not on their receipts.

August 12, 2011|David Lazarus
  • A spokeswoman for CVS Caremark, parent of the CVS drugstore chain, said feedback from customers asking that rewards be stored on their CVS cards rather than their receipts "is useful and is being taken into consideration, but it isnt all inclusive and doesnt represent all 67 million of our active cardholders.
A spokeswoman for CVS Caremark, parent of the CVS drugstore chain, said… (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg )

Apparently it's about time someone asked CVS customers what they thought of the drugstore chain's cash-back rewards program, which requires people to schlep around their receipt until their next visit to the store.

Turns out an overwhelming majority of CVS customers want to do away with the receipts and instead have their rewards automatically stored on their CVS cards.

Not that CVS cares.

The company promises its 67 million cardholders that they'll get 2% back on purchases — but only if they remember to bring their last receipt with them when they shop and redeem their "Extra Bucks" at the register.

Helena Foulkes, who oversees marketing for CVS Caremark, the chain's parent company, told me the practice is intended to make customers "feel excited" about receiving their rewards.

That's nice. But is it what customers want? Or would they prefer the far greater convenience of knowing that their rewards are always available, allowing them to receive their promised 2% rebate whenever they shop? I recently asked CVS customers to let the company know (and to cc me as well).

I stopped counting the emails from readers once they topped 400, which seemed like a fairly representative sampling of consumer opinion. Responses are still rolling in from CVS customers nationwide.

At this point, only a small handful of customers (roughly a dozen) have said they like getting their rewards on their receipts. "This way," commented Rina Mitchell, "I know how much I have without having to guess."

That sentiment was drowned out by the many, many other customers who uniformly rejected the current rewards system and told CVS that their Extra Bucks should be stored on their cards.

Ann McCann: "I love your store, but never benefit from the extra bucks because my super-long receipt is a) at home, b) in my purse, expired, or c) accidentally gone forever in the garbage."

Bonnie Sanders: "This is a BAD program and whenever I have the opportunity to shop at a different drugstore, I do so. I would be much more eager to be loyal to your establishment if rewards were connected to the cards."

Julie Gage: "This is a cheap way for a corporation to claim that they offer customer rewards while making it so inconvenient for the customer that the company doesn't actually have to provide those rewards."

Frank Herbert: "I don't want to carry around those receipts especially since I never know when I'll be in CVS the next time. Besides, why should all that paper be wasted on a receipt when the program could easily be accommodated by the card I've got?"

CVS received so many emails, it sent out canned responses saying that "we value your input and are taking all of the comments we're receiving into consideration."

But that doesn't mean the company plans to make any changes.

Erin Pensa, a CVS spokeswoman, suggested that the hundreds of readers who took the time to email the company aren't representative of all CVS cardholders. A silent majority apparently exists that relishes the excitement of carrying around their receipts.

"The feedback we've gotten today is useful and is being taken into consideration, but it isn't all inclusive and doesn't represent all 67 million of our active cardholders," Pensa said.

She added that the relatively minuscule number of people who wrote in to say they like receiving cash back on receipts "actually proves the point we were trying to make, which is that there are still customers that want that choice."

CVS knows that "the future is clearly digital," Pensa said. As such, she said, people can now download a limited number of discount coupons directly to their cards.

But when I asked if cash-back rewards would also be stored on people's cards at some point down the road, Pensa said only that "additional enhancements" to the program were pending.

I'm not trying to tell CVS its business. But it seems to me that if hundreds of customers say they want the company's rewards program to be more convenient and accessible, and only a dozen or so say they like things as they are, it's probably time to sit up and take notice.

A year ago, CVS' chief marketing officer, Rob Price, told me that "the receipt won't be the currency going forward" and "the goal is to have the reward stored in the customer's card."

Now the company apparently sees greater financial merit in promising a reward but deliberately making it difficult for many people to receive it. In the most recent quarter, CVS Caremark pocketed $816 million in profit. Chief Exec Larry Merlo attributed that in part to "solid expense control."

Maybe CVS should remember that loyalty programs work both ways. If a company can't (or won't) live up to its part of the bargain, it may find that customers are all too willing to take their loyalty elsewhere.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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