The Case for Digital Coupons

I know I’m always picking on my local CVS, especially when it comes to front end technology and its self-checkout units in particular. But it seems like every time I decide to visit the drug chain, they give me yet another reason to write about them.

Take for instance their loyalty marketing program. During a recent visit, after I checked out my merchandise at the self-checkout (of course -- because their registers were closed as usual), my transaction ended with the machine spitting out a three-foot long strip of coupons.

This brought a couple of items to mind. First, it’s obvious that the retailer doesn’t have many strong sustainability programs in place, or it wouldn’t waste so much paper. Second, the offers that were printed on that sheet lead me to question the validity of its loyalty program.

Now I use my CVS ExtraCare card every time I make a purchase, regardless of whether or not the items I bought are on special. But a rudimentary analysis of my purchases will demonstrate that I am mostly an impulse shopper when I go to CVS, who doesn’t do any pantry-filling purchases. And if the item happens to be on special during that specific trip, I’ll pick up a few. For example, after a workout one morning I saw that VitaminWater was on sale for 99 cents for card members, so I bought five of them instead of just the one I came in for. Same thing for batteries. I buy them every once in a while, and if there happens to be a sale for card members, I’ll take advantage of that sale at that time.

One other thing CVS data should have pointed out is that I have never redeemed one of their paper coupons. Not one.

Even if I did redeem paper coupons, getting three feet of them at once – even if every coupon included was relevant, I most likely wouldn’t have a need for most of them by the time they expired, and as I mentioned, I am not a pantry-filling consumer.

Aside from this, let’s take a look at the individual offers:

  • Take 25% off your purchase: This expired three days later, and the items excluded featured some of the items I usually purchase at this store. Plus, this meant that I would have to cut out that coupon and actually remember to use it right away.
  • $2 off any pain reliever or Sleep Aid purchase of $7.99 or more. This one is kind of relevant, so they must have seen me buy the CVS brand equivalent to Tylenol PM or Advil PM, and they are trying to get me to trade up. But even with the $2 off, the brands are still more expensive than the store brand. Plus, I was all stocked up and didn’t need any at the time.
  • $1 off $5 toothbrush, Toothpaste, or Mouthwash. They are probably trying to upsell me here, as well. But because I travel a lot, I usually just get a bunch of travel-sized toothpaste, and they happen to have the brand I like. Again, it expired a little too soon and was not enough of a deal for me to apply.
  • $2 off any lipstick or gloss purchase. My wife never uses a card when she shops here, so I’m not sure where this offer comes from.
  • $1 off any $5 cookies, chips, or nuts purchase. Again, trying to upsell me. But as I’m trying to lose weight, I haven’t bought any of these items in the past few months. And when I did, they were all from the dollar section. So this was not really an attractive deal.
  • $1 off CVS Naproxen Sodium Pain Reliever. This deal was probably the most relevant, as I regularly use naproxen sodium for chronic back pain due. However, the only place I have ever bought Naproxen Sodium was the private label brand at the Deal$ dollar store a few blocks away. So either CVS got really lucky, or it has purchased some credit card data that shouldn’t be for sale.

Now in CVS’ defense, I haven’t yet registered my card online and selected products that could be sent to my card. I just did today, so I’ll report back on how that works in a future newsletter.

But since I never use paper coupons, it would be more convenient for me – and certainly nicer to the planet -- to simply forgo the three feet of paper I will most certainly never use, and just add those promotions to my card electronically. I may never end up redeeming them, but if I just happened to pick up something during the promotion, it would be a nice surprise – and that’s something I don’t get much when shopping at any New York retailer.

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