If you’ve opened this article, you may already know what it’s about. It’s a punchline as old and washed out a Charlie Sheen joke: CVS has long receipts. It’s one of the primary perks of a CVS ExtraCare membership, and — as a long time ExtraCare member — I know this to be true. Hoarding yardstick length receipts for years has made it possible to ensure I’ll never be without one again. I’ll find CVS in the junk drawer in my kitchen, the unemptied pockets of pants in the drier, and the darkest corners of my grandest nightmares. The only time I’m without a receipt, it seems, is when I’m making a transaction at CVS. In my ~8 years as an ExtraCare member I’ve used a total of ~0 coupons at the store itself, begging the question: why am I an ExtraCare member at all?
Last Tuesday I purchased a bag of chips and got handed a toddler-sized receipt, and decided it was finally time for me to seek out additional resources. Surely, there HAD to be something better than this.
A quick search in the app store found a free CVS app. I could sign in with my ExtraCare credentials and sync all of my pre-existing coupons to my phone. The app would even show me deals that are about to expire. Great! This will clear space in the junk drawer, but this app comes with clear shortcomings. To apply a coupon, you have to discover it (as you might on a long slip of paper), and click the “add to card” button to activate it before making a purchase. It doesn’t appear like there’s a cap on the number of coupons you can add to your card at one time — which is great — but why aren’t all of these coupons added to my card automatically?
Adding coupons automatically would decrease discovery. These coupons remain disparate and manual because they want to point you towards specific products. I didn’t know I wanted a box of razors until I saw that expiring coupon from Gillette. Streamlining this might decrease revenue.
Thank you for your concern, reader, I hear you. How’s this for a counter argument. I think we can agree name brand-specific coupons will only influence you to buy that product if 1) the shopper is aware of the coupon’s existence and 2) the coupon isn’t too difficult to use. For both of these conditions to be true, we’re assuming the shopper will comb through at least one CVS receipt, find a coupon of interest and then apply it correctly while at the store, which isn’t exactly easy. Many coupons are stacked with small clauses: only apply to specific items, must be a certain price before the discount factors in, can’t been discounted already. Furthermore you only receive coupon validation when you reach the cashier and — unfortunately — the current CVS app does nothing to calm this concern. If you click “send to card” in the app, you’ll receive a check mark on the same screen, but there’s zero indication of the coupon’s application on the card itself. Did you know there are how-to videos on youtube about how you can use your CVS coupons? General usability rule of thumb: if somebody’s making how-to videos about your product’s basic use cases, you’re doing something wrong. If somebody’s making how-to videos about your product’s basic use cases and the use case is one-step long, you should tear it down and start over.
Option 1: Algorithmically choose the coupons I use based on my purchases. Assuming there are no other changes to my workflow, this will be the most effective and sustainable solution. The CVS ExtraCare app continues to store all the coupons I’ve collected but removes the need for discovery. After the cashier rings up my purchases, they’ll scan my ExtraCare app bar code which will sort through my coupon bank, pick out the ones that are relevant, stack them if allowed, and prioritize more valuable coupons when stacking isn’t allowed. I’ll still go to CVS regularly, and likely be inspired to go more often thanks to the store’s shopper-friendly transparency. We can even integrate with a platform like ApplePay so you can easily pay with your phone.
Option 2: Advertise savings instead of spending. If we optimize the deals shoppers receive, can we present their savings in a way that incentivizes future spending? Can they unlock greater coupons as their savings pile up? Can they see their savings compared to others? Like option 1, this won’t alter the standard shopper workflow, but creates a more personalized relationship between store and shopper and an alternative reason to return.
Future ideas that will alter the shopper workflow:
Bar code scanner for your cart. If you scan items while placing them into your basket, you’ll see the coupons your ExtraCare card will apply in real-time. You can even see suggestions for coupons you’re close to qualifying for. If you’re buying one brand, and there’s another for a comparable price that has a coupon, the app will suggest swapping your item for the alternative. If you’re close to qualifying for a discount, the app might suggest adding another item in. This feature should also show coupons for items frequently purchased with the items in your cart.
Trip planner that syncs your coupons with the inventory of the store and offers the optimal price for each item you’re looking for: shampoo, toothpaste, chips, toilet paper, etc. This will allow shoppers to make sure they’re always getting the best deal. The app will create boxes for people to pick-up in the store, or same-day deliver to their house for an additional fee.
Let me know what you think, how each of these ideas can be improved, and feel free to pass this to Larry J. Merlo if you have his contact info. As we move further away from the physical receipt, I’d love to see stores like CVS follow suit— especially if it grants them the opportunity to change their brand from a punchline to the reliable store that holds their user’s experience paramount.
Alas, this entire argument may be null, for who can truly put a value on the lucrative free-marketing of meme culture.