Walgreen is finally ready to launch a loyalty card

DEERFIELD, Ill., Fri Aug 24, 2012 –Walgreen Co. will join the loyalty card game next month as it tries to win back millions of pharmacy patrons, a daunting task as rivals CVS Caremark Corp.  and Rite Aid Corp.  already have well-established programs.

For years Walgreen, the largest U.S. drugstore chain, said it was just fine without a loyalty card that rewards holders for spending more. Now, after testing formats for a year and a half, and after losing shoppers who had to fill Express Scripts prescriptions elsewhere for most of 2012, the chain is embarking on one of the biggest marketing pushes in its 111-year history.

Heading the introduction of the Balance Rewards card is Graham Atkinson, who led United Airlines’ Mileage Plus program before he joined Walgreen as chief customer experience officer in January 2011.

Walgreen’s new program blends aspects of airlines’ frequent flyer plans and loyalty cards from drugstore rivals and Duane Reade, which the company acquired in 2010.

“This program is all about collecting points, saving up for a treat,” said Atkinson. “If we get a more engaged customer, and ultimately a more loyal customer, they will give us a larger share of their shopping wallet.”

Walgreen will bring out its loyalty card on September 16, although patrons can sign up starting early next month with a chance to win 10 million points.

“Today, it’s kind of table stakes in most retail to have some program for rewarding, incenting, personalizing communications to your shoppers,” said Ben Sprecher, co-founder of Incentive Targeting, a software company that helps retailers and brands understand and change shopper behavior. “It absolutely needs to be done, and better late than never.”