Drugstore chains compete for customer loyalty and growing online sales

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CVS’ ExtraCare program gives members 2% back; Walgreens members earn 10 points for each dollar spent
CVS’ ExtraCare program gives members 2% back; Walgreens members earn 10 points for each dollar spent
However, both companies though appear to recognize the need for innovation on their e-commerce sites. CVS, for example, is pushing its Beauty 360 line prominently online with a design and style that befits a more high-end product line that might not normally be associated with drugstore beauty brands. This ties nicely into the launch of its ExtraCare Beauty Club. Visitors can click to “get the look” a model is wearing.

“The ability to see how to use makeup, and how to buy it is a great integrated e-commerce experience,” says Anna Banks, director of strategy at Organic, a digital agency owned by Omnicom Group.

The makeup play is not just to make things pretty. Carolyn Castel, VP, corporate communications at CVS Caremark, told Direct Marketing News by e-mail that 80% of CVS shoppers are women. “All of our marketing decisions are informed based on what ‘she' is looking for from her experience at CVS/pharmacy,” said Castel.

Walgreens, which declined to comment for this article, deploys personalization on its e-commerce site, a marketing best practice. When a prospect returns to its site, products she browsed previously are prominently placed on the site. The drugstore chain also features product recommendations and user reviews of products across the site. “The consumer voice is brought into the Walgreens page very nicely, and having reviews and customer recommendations can really lead to a lift in sales,” says Banks.

To help drive business on their e-commerce sites, both brands employ a number of e-mail marketing programs. For example, each drugstore lets a consumer sign up to receive e-mails with news from the pharmacy or sign up to receive deals on photo printing. “Walgreens' e-mail has warm and clear messaging and they make good use of real estate, but they could have a clearer call-to-action and some of the links don't go to the right pages, which should be fixed,” says Harmon. “CVS' e-mail is clean and simple and is more direct in terms of communicating what it is about. They could do a better job of more organically integrating the messages at the top and the bottom of the e-mail.”

In addition, both companies could do a better job promoting their social media pages from within their e-mail, as well as add an e-mail opt-in to their social media pages to further grow their subscriber base. Then again, it is no surprise that CVS doesn't want to draw any attention to its Facebook page. With only 5,500 fans, the conversations on the page seem random and don't appear to be moderated. 

“CVS' Facebook page is really bad; it's like the inmates are running the asylum,” says Banks. “Walgreens, on the other hand, has a great Facebook page, and clearly someone is on there provoking conversations. They could do a better job promoting it on their website.” Unsurprisingly, Walgreens is away ahead of CVS with more than 800,000 fans when this article went to press.

Brand Champion

While both brands offer competitive loyalty programs and decent e-commerce experiences with robust e-mail programs, Walgreens has the marketing edge. Its more consistent, cleaner design across marketing channels, and its simple approach to loyalty and innovations in social media, put this drugstore chain ahead of the competition.  

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