Once upon a time, when you looked through the Sunday advertising circulars, and saw Tide on sale for $1.99, you simply went to the store, put Tide in your cart, and paid $1.99 at the checkout. Simple.
Sales were advertised broadly, and open to everyone. And even if you didn’t know the item was on sale before you walked in the store, you nonetheless got the benefit of the sale price when you checked out. Then, maybe a decade or more ago, some supermarkets questioned why they were giving discounts or offering sale items to everyone who just walked in off the street. So they created loyalty cards or club cards so that only customers who allowed the store to track their purchases could buy the items advertised in their circulars at the sale price.
Clever. Very clever. Saves them a ton of money (at our expense). But now it gets even worse. All three major drugstore chains — Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid — have figured out a way to get customers to pay full price for sale items and only get credit for the discount price toward a future purchase.
CVS started it several years ago with “extra bucks”. That is a system whereby cardholders are shown a sale price for an item in an ad, but pay full price or close to full price for it. On their register receipt will be a coupon good for the difference between the advertised price and full price. That coupon can be used toward a future purchase.
In this case, you are attracted by the $4.97 sale price (“it’s like getting it for $4.97” they say), but you really have to pay almost $9. You get back $4 in merchandise credit for future purchases on a subsequent visit to the store.
What’s problem with that? You are really getting a discount on something else, and not on the sale item that attracted you to the store to start with. You have to make a second trip to the store (or go back and do a second shopping on the first trip.) You only have a few weeks to use the credit before it expires, so you could lose the money (and in effect really would have purchased the original item at full price). You also could wind up having to buy more merchandise on that subsequent trip that you may or may not want or need.
Walgreens followed suit a couple of years ago offering “register rewards”, and sometime after that, Rite Aid jumped on the bandwagon with “+UP Rewards”.
To make matters worse, Walgreens will only accept one register reward per item. So if you have collected a dollar credit here, and a two dollar credit there, and want to apply them to the purchase of a $3 item, you can’t. (CVS and Rite Aid will accept multiple credits toward a single item.) And Rite Aid won’t let you use credits earned today until 6 am tomorrow, thereby necessitating a second trip.
This whole system of giving discounts only to cardholders, coupled with making you pay full price instead of the advertised sale price is all designed to SAVE THEM MONEY by getting you to spend more and potentially save less. That’s some system.