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January 30, 2017

Walgreens Misleads Customers on Rewards Program, Potentially Pocketing Millions

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

Consumer World Investigation

[Pressed for time? Read a summary of this story here.]

Like many drugstore chains, Walgreens has a loyalty program and they call it Balance Rewards. You earn points on most everything you buy, and points collected can be used like cash toward future purchases.

In April 2015, the company recognized some of the less appealing aspects of the program and notified members via email and on their website that starting May 31, 2015 they would have more ways to earn points:

Walgreens email

Great news — one can now earn points on prescriptions. (That asterisk only referred to limitations in a handful of states.) And sure enough, by early June 2015, Walgreens updated the main Balance Rewards webpage to indicate that “all” prescriptions – both 30 and 90-day ones — would earn points.

MrConsumer, like probably millions of others, orders 90-day prescriptions for maintenance drugs via Walgreens’ mail order service at Walgreens.com and was expecting to finally earn points on these purchases. It’s not a lot of money — you earn about a dollar for every three such prescriptions ordered or reordered.

Fast forward to February 2016. MrConsumer wondered how many points he had accumulated on prescriptions over the past nine months or so, so he checked his balance. A surprising ZERO was earned. He then wrote to customer service asking what happened and got this response:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Regretfully, you do only earn points for prescriptions if you fill your medications locally, rather than via Mail Order. Also, I have included a link to the Balance Rewards Terms and Conditions so that you may locate this information, if you would like to look.

That link to their February 2016 terms and conditions said nothing about online prescriptions being excluded from earning points. In fact, it said the opposite:

*MOUSE PRINT:

With the exception of photo orders (which require “store pickup” in order to earn Points), items ordered online and delivered to your home will earn Points as they would if purchased in store.

Now fast forward again to last week. Their website as of January 24, 2017 continued to advertise that you get 100/300 points for filling prescriptions both in-store and online, and that all prescriptions earn points:

Points online and in-store

– – –
All earn points

Note: footnote references shown above only relate to an exclusion in three states.

And this 2017 national television commercial also proclaims that all prescriptions earn points:

Walgreens TV ad

So, we asked Walgreens’ PR folks last Monday (January 23) why points were not provided as represented in advertisements and in multiples places on their website, and wanted to know what they were going to do to resolve the issue. In a statement, Walgreens replied:

“As stated on our website in the Frequently Asked Questions, only prescriptions picked up in-store are eligible to earn Balance Rewards points at this time. We are always appreciative of customer and member feedback, and take it into consideration as we continually review program materials. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.” – Emily Hartwig-Mekstan, Walgreens Media Relations Manager

Rather than admitting that the company unintentionally or carelessly goofed and that they would immediately fix the misleading representations, (or perish the thought, go back and make consumers whole), they suggested all was fine because one FAQ revealed the true facts. Incidentally, the main page for program details about Balance Rewards has no such FAQ except as it relates to drugs for pets and children. Only in the general help section for Walgreens.com under Balance Rewards, nowhere near where the points earning claims are made, is there a question among three dozen others that discloses that only prescriptions picked up in-store can earn rewards.

And remember that fine print terms and conditions statement (shown above) that says the only product category that requires in-store pickup to earn points is photos? Well, that was the wording until the day after our inquiry! Believe it or not, the very next day (1/24/2017) Walgreens inconspicuously amended their terms and conditions to now exclude prescriptions from earning points unless picked up in the store:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Exception added 1/24/17

What a coincidence in timing.

And to try to cover themselves on the main Balance Rewards page, a couple of days after our inquiry, they inconspicuously added a few words and a footnote to limit points earnings on prescriptions to in-store purchases only. These changes were made in the very places we had pointed out to them. We’ve highlighted their changes in red boxes below. [Compare to original.]

*MOUSE PRINT: (Use scrollbar below on the right to view.)

Walgreens Balance Rewards change


There is no word if they plan to change their television commercial.

In fiscal 2016, Walgreens filled 740 million prescriptions in its retail division, which includes mail order. It is unclear what percentage of those prescriptions were in-store versus mail order, but clearly, millions of consumers never got the likely millions of dollars of rewards that Walgreens promised.

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12 Comments

  1. The dizzying amount and complexity of their rules – with either accidental or intentional “gotcha” traps – illustrates why I refuse to engage in retailers’ “follow the laser beam on the floor” marketing game. There aren’t any Walgreen’s around here, but I don’t play Rite-Aid’s nor Kmart’s similar “rewards” games.

    Comment by Marty — January 30, 2017 @ 7:21 am
  2. Please keep up the good work fighting for consumers. Consumers now, more than ever, are being taken advantage of. Without your skills and tenacity, many of these problems would not come to lght, nor be even dealt with by the offending business. Thank you.

    Edgar replies: David… thank YOU for the very kinds words.

    Comment by David Schurgin — January 30, 2017 @ 10:26 am
  3. The reward point promotionals, to me, have become mind boggling. I can’t figure out the walgreen’s system. And cvs would not let me use a coupon from my phone only a printed coupon.

    I just signed up to the mymixx at star. Hopefully by giving them so much of my consumer information, they will make it worth my while to have done so. After all they get paid when they sell my consumer information.

    I am still trying to figure out how by using my credit card to buy a pizza at an independent pizzeria that within a half hour a pizza coupon for dominos and papa ginos showed up on my facebook page? The credit card company must have some very special relationships with marketing companies.

    Comment by Nancy Sing — January 30, 2017 @ 10:33 am
  4. Edgar, though I read faithfully and very much like having you nipping at the heels of those dogs who would have their way with us, the fact is they don’t actually change their ways. I see them changing their words after the fact, hopefully protecting the public to some degree, most of whom probably weren’t reading anyway, but words are the medium of exchange. Seldom (if ever?) do I see them actually change their behavior in a way that DOES make the consumer whole. ** Once cheated the consumer is still left cheated.**

    It’s too bad their isn’t a bounty on cheaters — once reported and verified a mandatory payment (dare I call it a fine?) would be levied and paid to the consumer who reported it. Do I see a gleam in your eye?! Yes, there are payments now, but only after many lawyers get rich from filing lengthy lawsuits, class action of course, with notices to me that I can’t read because I don’t speak lawerese.

    As far as Walgreens goes, if I weren’t forced to use them on occasion because they won the current government contract I’d not set foot in the place.

    I don’t know how you keep motivated to do what you do in such an environment, but I’m glad you keep doing it. Thank you.

    Comment by BobF — January 30, 2017 @ 11:20 am
  5. Every retail store’s points programs are so complicated that you’d have to have a lawyer by your side when you buy something. “What’s next?” I asked myself and up pops Target’s Cartwheel program. Admittedly, I’m old, but I couldn’t believe the hoops you have to jump through to get 5% off SOME items. There you have to scan everything in your cart using your phone and an app, and just hope something comes up with an extra sale. Don’t ask me what happens at the checkout because that’s when I hand my phone to the clerk and they perform some incantation to get the discount. From points to clicks, it’s all a marketing scheme to get you to buy more, and it always makes me mad when I don’t get a stated bonus, so I’ve just about washed my hands of those promotions and pay no attention to them.

    Comment by MerryMarjie — January 30, 2017 @ 12:56 pm
  6. Walgreens’ slogan is “Walgreens: At the corner of happy and healthy.” A more truthful slogan would be: “Walgreens: At the corner of unfair and deceptive.” The company should be ashamed of itself. Either they set out to fool consumers or the people who wrote the copy are idiots. Which one Walgreens?

    Comment by HMC — January 30, 2017 @ 1:39 pm
  7. A classic Mouseprint investigation. Great work.

    The problem is that we know that there will not be punishment for such blatant false advertising, which means there is no incentive for advertisers to not do it again.

    Comment by Wayne R — January 30, 2017 @ 10:32 pm
  8. Walgreens is the worst store to shop. The prices are always higher than even Rite-Aid and CVS and of course, Walmart prices always beats them. I shop there when I HAVE TO and buy things on SALE and only if the SALE prices are lower than Walmart. Walgreens s**ks! I worked there for one year so my comment is also from personal experience.

    Comment by Gerry — January 31, 2017 @ 11:35 am
  9. What Walgreen’s has done stinks BUT why frequent a business that pulls this kind of thing? There are thousands of other places to get your prescriptions filled and as for buying anything else from them, nope. Their prices are horrible. Rite Aid isn’t any better. A few years ago Rite Aid opened a store in a economically depressed area of town (mostly elderly, single mothers, etc.). I checked it out one day and noticed that the prices were more than at other Rite Aid locations in town. I think they figured they had a ‘captive audience’ and could get away with it. Thank heavens it backfired and they closed that location after less than a year.

    Comment by Gert — January 31, 2017 @ 3:17 pm
  10. I haven’t shopped at Walgreens for several years. Not since they required to have one on their “customer loyalty cars” to get the sale prices on items being promoted in their flyer.

    Comment by John P — February 1, 2017 @ 3:31 pm
  11. I once got an email saying that I’d get a batch of points for simply buying $25 worth of stuff. No points. Contacted Walgreens CS and they claimed I did not receive that promo. After badgering them and sending a screen cap they finally gave me the points but only as a “goodwill adjustment” and never admitted the mistake. I have to watch them like a hawk.

    Comment by Kevin Hisel — February 2, 2017 @ 3:54 pm
  12. Edgar, Now I feel compelled to again mention the sundays glossy ad. Certain items mention using coupons for buy one get one free or reduced. BUT my sunday newspaper does not have those coupons. when I spoke to the store manager, she mentioned the mouse print ..not available in all areas.. the manager told me the state of Florida randomly rotates the coupons. I ignore walgreens ads now!

    Edgar replies: Tom… look for the circular for your area online at sites like: https://flipp.com/weekly_ads (and add your zip code).

    Comment by Tom Gauvin — February 4, 2017 @ 5:59 pm

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