CVS Taking Heat for Length of Store Receipts

Discussion
Aug 12, 2011
George Anderson

As retail "controversies’ go, longer sales receipts is probably not one of the bigger ones. It also isn’t an issue about a single retailer as we discovered in a 2009 RetailWire article and poll, which found that only 13 percent were positive about longer receipts while 59 percent saw them as being extremely wasteful.

All that being said, CVS has been receiving some negative press and social media commentary over the length of its paper receipts.

Take this posting from the Facebook page "One Million Strong Against Unnecessarily Long CVS Receipts" as an example: "My last CVS receipt for $3.34 was 25.5 inches long. And that’s too (expletive) long. I don’t care that they use my CVS card to track me across the planet, I just want a receipt that isn’t 1/3rd my height."

David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times has been dogged in his pursuit of CVS on the company’s receipt policy. Mr. Lazarus’ basic contention with the drugstore chain is that its Extra Bucks reward system could (should) apply discounts directly to the consumer’s ExtraCare loyalty card rather than to a long, tree-killing (our emphasis) receipt that consumers by-and-large neither like nor want. CVS offers two percent off purchases if card holders present receipts at its stores.

CVS has added to issue, according to Mr. Lazarus, by suggesting that it would be moving to shorter receipts and then reversing course. Specifically, Mr. Lazarus claimed that CVS chief marketing officer Rob Price had told him that "the receipt won’t be the currency going forward" and "the goal is to have the reward stored in the customer’s card."

It should be noted that CVS does have a system in place for customers to shorten the length of receipts. All they need to do is go online and register for ExtraCare emails. Special offers are then emailed to consumers rather than going on receipt slips. The only problem with that, according to a blog on The Atlantic site, is "Customers who want to avoid receipts and still use their coupons will have to read each coupon email and decide whether to send it to their printer or to their CVS card. Which is annoying, almost as annoying as receiving a 25-inch receipt after purchasing a quart of milk."

Back to Mr. Lazarus. He asked readers of the LA Times to let him know how they felt about the receipt issue. He reported that he stopped counting the number that came in once it reached 400 and that the vast majority were for shorter emails and rewards being placed directly on their ExtraCare cards.

One person who wrote in, Ann McCann, said, "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."

A CVS spokesperson told Mr. Lazarus that the small sample of objections he presented to the drugstore chain did not represent the universe of card holders and those in favor of the current system "actually proves the point we were trying to make, which is that there are still customers that want that choice."

Discussion Questions: Where do you come down on long receipt issue? Are there legitimate business reasons for tying offers to receipts rather than placing then directly on a loyalty card?

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19 Comments on "CVS Taking Heat for Length of Store Receipts"


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Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago

I go into a drug store to buy something. I don’t want for added elements within that trip to try to convert me into a “buying machine.” I opt for specific receipts that are short.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 8 months ago

It’s just possible to characterize this as a tempest in a teapot. The length of the receipt is frequently governed by the coupons, and seeing the coupons on the receipt effectively highlights them for the customer, more so than storing them on the card. Supermarket receipts, due to large, multi-item transactions, are equally as long as the CVS ones, but no one is complaining there. I think Mr. Lazarus should grow up, or find another way to notoriety.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Mr. Lazarus needs to get a life. I’m looking at five receipts from CVS on my desk–all are about 5 inches long and one is about 16 inches long–the one with the reward.

Why do you not put it directly on the card? You lose the advertising and reminder value of that paper coupon. Until the day when we all have smartphones that will light up when we come anywhere near a CVS store, how else would they remind us?

And if someone is so adamant about this, they have the simple option of not shopping CVS. If he lives in the LA area, I’m betting there’s another drug store close by.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Whatever side one favors regarding the length of a CVS sales receipt, the company needs to do a better job of responding to its critics. In my opinion, Mr. Lazarus is right, CVS’s loyalty program is a not consumer or environmentally friendly. Perhaps the program is set up to allow bragging rights about significant rebates, while counting on few redemptions. Regardless, it does not seem to have caused consumers to stay away from CVS stores. Nor does it seem that CVS really cares.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Their receipts are way too long. Whether there is a business case for it or not, customer service ought to dictate another approach like placing the credits directly on the card.

Of course that would be unwieldy too, since the bonuses are all time sensitive as opposed to accrued. Getting rid of the paper receipt might lead to more confusion at the cash register.

The easy answer is to digitize the process, but I don’t know what percentage of CVS customers have smart phones, email, etc. and then, what do you do for the rest?

Sounds like a great opportunity for a receipt designer if such folks exist.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

In this environmentally green world we are living in saving trees is always on one’s mind when looking at paper usage. I usually discard those abnormally long receipts unless I see an immediate value in responding to whatever they are asking me to do to qualify for who knows what.
I do think CVS can better improve their image by becoming more aware of their customer and critic’s points.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 8 months ago

Another issue, I’m guessing, is that drug store customers tend to be above average in age and not as likely to use e-mail or smart phones. So, receipts are a better way to catch their attention.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The problem with automatic redemptions is that it just becomes silence in a noisy background. Very long receipts are obviously a very clumsy way to get the shoppers attention and participation in what is fundamentally cutting prices, i.e., paying customers to buy. I highly recommend “Mind Your Pricing Cues – HBR” for a broad survey of this issue.

John Karolefski
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

It doesn’t take much for a store to annoy customers. Taking issue with long receipts might be enough on a bad hair day. CVS needs to tune into social media and reevaluate.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Agree that CVS should change their approach. I find long receipts annoying. It doesn’t cause me to shop with another retailer, but it definitely doesn’t get me to spend more with them.

It should be simple as 1) I give you my card. 2) You give me the option of a printed or emailed receipt. 3) You send me targeted offers. Done.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

And here I thought I was the only one! CVS’s receipts are borderline insane.

The only legitimate reason I can think of is that it decreases my odds of actually USING the coupon, because where the heck am I going to store the things?

But the Empire Strikes Back! I won’t use the loyalty card, because I don’t feel like I’m getting a fair exchange for my information.

I am obviously writing this more as a consumer than as a retail observer, but the observer in me says “It’s a way to avoid paying up.” Reminds me of those rebate programs that seem to finally be going out of style. Just wrong.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

How about giving receipts only to customers who want them? Dan & Whit’s General Store, up here in Norwich, Vermont, routinely has clerks ask you if you want a receipt or not. Most people say ‘no thanks.’

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Mr. Lazarus’ choice of obsessions has me baffled. Perhaps he has never ventured to the pharmacy where plastic bottles are enclosed in individual sacks, stapled together, topped with pages of instructions and disclaimers that are rarely read, then capped of with, yes, a nice, long paper receipt.

Let’s go there first, shall we?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

“As retail ‘controversies’ go, longer sales receipts is probably not one of the bigger ones.”

I agree. The bigger problem, here, I think, is that our old “friend” social media allows anyone with a keyboard–oh, sorry, so 2005–a touchpad and too much time to create “controversy.” If anyone thinks companies can “engage” customers by altering their practices every time someone blogs a complaint somewhere, they’re wrong.

Jerome Schindler
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Much ado about nothing! What I wish would go away are all the bound and loose postcards in magazines. I am already a subscriber–why include subscription offers, often at a price less than I paid so they just make me angry. As a consumer, I find the CVS Extra Bucks rewards to be very useful–you generally have a month to redeem them, and if you are a little late they take them anyway. Walgreens’ Register Rewards have only a 2 week fuse and when they expire there is no grace period. I rarely shop at Walgreens anymore.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Not only are the receipts too long, but also there are too many different things on the receipt. Some people want to save the receipt for medical records or tax records. On the other hand there are offers that expire at one time period and offers that expire at a different time period. Given the paper and ink, that poor receipt needs to be handled and saved and used a lot. Not easy for the consumers to keep track of or use.

Larry Negrich
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

In the age of exceeding the expectations of customers, why not just ask: “Coupons and offers on your receipt?” That would be an easy POS adjustment. It may be a more difficult employee process change. As electronic receipts and mobile coupons become more prominent this issue should become even less important.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
Fair or not, CVS is taking significant PR heat over this issue. Its attempts to explain its tenuous position regarding receipt-delivered promotions are making the company seem callous, or incompetent or maybe even manipulative. At moments like these I feel I should remind our readers of Tenser’s first law of public relations: “Do the right thing.” CVS needs to re-design the workings of its Extra Bucks dis-loyalty program. It needs to inform its shoppers that this is not an insignificant task but that the company is investing the effort out of an abundance of concern for shopper convenience and experience. Then it needs to follow through within a reasonable time frame. If there is fear about the cost of much higher program redemption, then senior management should compare this risk against the present damage to its core customer equity. Besides, there are other, more transparent ways to keep a lid on redemption costs – like making rewards much less extravagant. If coupled with making them much more convenient, I believe CVS can afford to dramatically… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I have noticed the receipt length for over 1 year, but have refrained from writing the blog post titled “26 inches of love” for several reasons.

In my opinion, retailer receipts in general are too long and CVS has one of the longest.

That said, it is hard to miss some of their offers, mostly recently one that offered $14 off next purchase.

CVS could move to a more elegant and environmentally conscious method of communicating with customers, but the value in the program is undeniable.

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