If you’re a CVS shopper, chances are you already are part of the drugstore chain’s ExtraCare rewards program. And if you’re not, do you like paying higher costs more than saving money?
CVS's loyalty program is one of the oldest, around for 20 years – 11 years older than Starbucks Rewards. In fact, CVS was where my shopping prowess was born. It was the first store I scored moneymakers at – the purchases where you get the items free and you make money in the process – and where I got my first free loyalty card.
This week, CVS updated ExtraCare with a couple of new features, including a birthday freebie and faster access to rewards.
Now, instead of waiting to receive 2% of your purchases back quarterly, you’ll get your earnings back with every visit.
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While this can be instant gratification for big shopping trips, I’ll be honest, it can feel a little defeating to earn a few pennies back when making a small purchase. When I used the updated program for the first time Monday on a pack of toilet paper and a free bag of store-brand candy, it hardly felt like a shopping victory seeing mere cents show up on my receipt.
The candy was free with a coupon I loaded to my CVS account through the mobile app, and I earned a surprise $1 in ExtraBucks, the chain's form of coupon currency, plus a whopping 8 cents back on my $3.99 purchase as part of the ExtraCare update.
Aside from the savings satisfaction that comes from seeing big bucks accumulate, yes, even pennies add up, and you can save these rewards to use together.
“Our customers told us that they really wanted even more flexibility and faster access to their rewards,” Michele Driscoll, CVS Health vice president of customer engagement, loyalty and personalization, told me. “This really gives them the option to either spend their reward right away after they get them, or they can save them up for a larger purchase.”
Saving at CVS in stores and online
So to get the sale prices at CVS, you've got to be an ExtraCare member. Without that program – which you access in the store with a card, keytag, the app or your phone number – you'll pay full price and earn no rewards.
The ExtraCare program has changed a lot over the years, but it's the CVS app that has helped me put down the scissors and save digitally, similar to using Target Circle for saving at Target.
The CVS app has both manufacturer and store coupons in it, and last year, CVS starting giving shoppers the option of digitizing coupons received on paper receipts to make them available in the CVS app and their CVS.com account.
Pro shopper tip: To digitize coupons, select the coupon on the app and then you don't need to hold onto the paper. Also, select manufacturer coupons in the app. Once you digitize a coupon, the paper coupon cannot be used.
Now with the program upgrade, CVS launched a reward tracker, which Driscoll said makes it easier for "digitally engaged members be able to see their rewards for ExtraCare as well as our beauty club, pharmacy and health rewards programs, as well as their CarePass promo rewards all in one place."
CVS estimates app users save three-times more on average than shoppers who don't use the app because of the coupons, which include exclusive and personalized offers.
More savings: Look at the weekly circular before heading to CVS. It's on the app and website and is your guide to seeing what's on sale. Signs are also throughout the store.
CVS receipts: Super long or digital, the choice is yours
While I'm a fan of digital coupons, I still get printed receipts at CVS and other stores so I can quickly look over the purchase.
And at CVS, there's another reason: To see how long my receipt will be.
For my recent purchase with just two items, the receipt measures in at nearly 40 inches, which is shorter than many of past receipts that were taller than me.
Along with the two ExtraBuck Rewards on my receipt, there were nine other coupons, which also show on my app.
The receipts are known for being so epically long that they've spawned scores of Halloween costumes, internet memes and jokes on late-night shows like "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
CVS added the option of paperless digital receipts in June 2016. but Driscoll told me some shoppers still prefer paper.
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“We really want to have the choice so that our customers can experience our program the way that works best,” she told me, adding that some members also like to print weekly coupons at the store Coupon Center.
Pro shopper tip: Check the CVS app before heading to the store to select offers and use the app while in store. You can also check prices using it.
CVS birthday reward
CVS has had birthday rewards in the past through its beauty club, but with the updated program there is more choice. Now CVS will give $3 in ExtraBucks during your birthday month to select what you want be it bandages or a protein bar.
But to get this reward you need to opt-in and share your birthday information with CVS. You can update your account through the app or website.
Use it or lose it: You have seven days to send the birthday reward to your card, and once it's sent, seven days to use it. The rewards can be redeemed through the app, CVS.com and in stores.
Score freebies at CVS via the app
To celebrate the launch of the updated program, CVS is offering free items on its mobile app throughout July.
The deals are coupons that you load to your account each week. Through July 3, the weekly freebie is a bag of Gold Emblem candy up to $2.
While ExtraCare is a free loyalty program, CVS also has a paid membership program: CarePass. This program isn't going away.
CarePass costs $5 a month, or you can save a few bucks and pay $48 for the full year. For that cost, you’ll get $10 monthly to spend in stores or online, a 20% discount on CVS Health brand products, free delivery and free same-day prescription delivery.
As long as you can use the $10 a month, it’s worth considering signing up for CarePass. You have the potential to walk away with an extra $60 to $72 in products for the membership rates. Learn more at cvs.com/carepass.
McDonald's, Popeyes add rewards programs, too
There’s, of course, a cost to saving money with loyalty programs: privacy. But anytime you download and use other apps like social networks, stores, and restaurant apps this is a risk.
Tracking tip: For most apps, I chose to track my location only when the app is open, but I choose to get notifications for some programs when I’m waiting for status updates of online orders.
The Federal Trade Commission also warns getting deals could come at the cost of your personal information in guidance about using shopping apps.
“Be sure you understand what information the app collects, and find out how it’s shared, why it’s shared, and what other companies it’s shared with,” the FTC says.
The FTC also suggests reviewing app permissions and turning off unnecessary permissions and limiting location permissions.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CVS ExtraCare Rewards: Loyalty program updated with more cash back