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Why are CVS receipts so long?

August 29, 2011 - 09:33 AM
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That wad of paper at the bottom of my purse isn’t just evidence that I need to clean that bag out. It’s also proof positive that CVS receipts are way too long.

Why the long face, CVS? It’s part of the company’s nonsensical rewards program. Use your CVS rewards card, and you earn “Extra Bucks”—2 percent back on things you buy, plus an Extra Buck for every two prescriptions you fill. Instead of loading those rewards onto your CVS card, though, your cashier prints you off a mile-long receipt with the Extra Buck credits on it. That winding yard of paper entangling itself with my keys at the bottom of my purse is supposed to be kept until the next time I pop into CVS for Altoids. And it’s only good for 60 days.

The policy has drawn the ire of the don’t-waste-paper crowd and one reporter, L.A. Times writer David Lazarus, who has written on the topic of CVS’s rewards program at least three times. Lazarus contends that the Extra Bucks program is a pain for customers and credits should simply be loaded onto the card. CVS counters that customers find it “exciting” to see the coupons printed on the receipt.

CVS and Lazarus also got into a brouhaha after the company tried to walk back its statement that the program was going to go digital. After Lazarus reported comments from CVS chief marketing officer Rob Price about how the company had “a militia of technical people” working so that customers could stash their cash-back rewards directly on their cards, CVS told Lazarus that he must have misunderstood Price. A higher up with the store’s parent company, CVS Caremark, told Lazarus that CVS is not pursuing any such measure. Helena Foulkes assured Lazarus that CVS customers loved redeeming their bonus dollars through a long, unwieldy coupon.

Somewhat hilariously, Lazarus put that claim to the test and solicited reader responses on the topic. He stopped counting at 400, the vast majority of which pilloried the current system. Reader Ann McCann wrote that she loves CVS but never actually redeems the benefits because “my super-long receipt is a) at home, b) in my purse, expired, or c) accidentally gone forever in the garbage.” Another, Julie Gage, wrote in to say the program “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.”

A Facebook group called “One Million Strong Against Unnecessarily Long CVS Receipts” seems to underscore the point that the public does not like this.

Retail Customer consulted a panel of experts to assess the CVS rewards program and Lazarus’ take on it. Two got personal, saying Lazarus “should grow up, or find another way to notoriety,” and that he “needs to get a life.” Roy White of RetailWire and Stephen Needel of Advanced Simulations both sided with CVS, saying that seeing the coupons on a receipt reminds customers to shop there.

Two other panelists took the side of the public. Max Goldberg of the Radical Clarity Group called the CVS loyalty program “not consumer or environmentally friendly.” Paula Rosenblum of RSR Research seemed to say it best: “CVS’s receipts are borderline insane.”

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