Walgreens Loyalty Program Leaving Many Customers Unrewarded, According to New Poll

Survey’s Results Raise Doubts about Balance Rewards’ Impact on Sales;
Gives Insight into Recapture of Express Scripts Customers.

A new nationwide poll of more than 2,000 Walgreens (NYSE, NASDAQ: WAG) shoppers raises concerns about the effectiveness of the company’s Balance Rewards loyalty program in changing consumer behavior.  Despite Balance Rewards’ impressive membership growth since its September 2012 launch, the poll points to problems with the program’s design that may be limiting customer engagement and participation.

Key findings include:

  • No clear impact on changes in spending.  Among regular Walgreens shoppers, Balance Rewards members are no more likely than non-members to say they have increased their spending at Walgreens.
  • Not meeting members’ demands for savings.  Only 16 percent of members believe they have saved a significant amount of money with the program, and three-quarters of members say that the program’s deals do not fit with items they usually buy.
  • Points redemption and accumulation difficult. Twenty-one percent of members report having redeemed Balance Rewards points.  More than two-thirds (69 percent) of members say it is not easy to earn rewards.
  • Balance Rewards points don’t pay off.  Based on customer-reported estimates of membership spending and points accumulation, the average Balance Rewards member is earning less than one cent for every dollar spent at Walgreens after six months of participation in the program—less than half of what CVS ExtraCare reports its members receive.

The poll also found that only 41 percent of customers who moved a prescription from Walgreens in 2012 due to insurance coverage issues say they have moved the prescription back to Walgreens. One analyst estimates that its dispute with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts cost Walgreens roughly 77 million prescriptions in 2012.

“Now is a critical time for Balance Rewards, as customer sentiment crystallizes and investors expect to see results,” said Nell Geiser, research director of Walgreens Strategy Watch, which commissioned Kelton Research to conduct the survey.  “Walgreens has made small adjustments to Balance Rewards to increase its appeal, but we believe the poll’s findings point to larger, structural problems with the program.  It simply may not be engaging and delighting customers in the way the company says it is.”

Loyalty and marketing experts have raised concerns that Balance Rewards point system may be overly complicated and delay rewards for too long for consumers.  In fact, 83 percent of polled Balance Rewards members said they look for membership programs that offer points on all purchases, not just selected items as Walgreens offers.

Walgreens Strategy Watch is a corporate transparency initiative of Change to Win.


Walgreen Strategy Watch, a corporate transparency initiative of Change to Win, commissioned Kelton Research to conduct the poll in May of 2013.  Kelton pollsters reached 2,139 Walgreens customers including 1,134 Balance Rewards members. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 2.9 percentage points (for members) and 3.1 percentage points (for non-members) from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample. The margin of error for any subgroups will be slightly higher.