CVS/pharmacy’s path to personalization

BY Antoinette Alexander

Fifteen years of ExtraCare data is influencing everything from how the company builds stores to how it communicates with customers

Personalization. In a single word, it is what is at the heart of every strategic initiative and important retail program occurring at CVS Caremark today.

“The overarching thing that we’re working on, and I think is the big key to our success, is this theme of personalization,” Mark Cosby, president of CVS/pharmacy, told Drug Store News in an exclusive Sept. 20 interview. “Any of the success we’ve had in pharmacy, front store or the total company has been under the halo of personalized experience. It is the core of everything that we’re working on right now.”

Talk to any member of the CVS Caremark executive team these days about the company’s core retail strategy and how it aligns with its broader plans to grow the total enterprise (read: the continued integration of one of the nation’s largest network of stores, one of the big three PBMs and the largest retail clinic footprint), and the conversation routinely comes back to that single word: personalization.

To learn more about CVS Caremark’s personalization efforts, and how those efforts are manifesting across its entire business — from how it is training its associates throughout the company, to how it markets and communicates with its customers, how it designs and merchandises its stores, and the pharmacy programs it is using to drive patient adherence and improved health outcomes — DSN recently sat down with Cosby, as well as SVP merchandising Judy Sansone and SVP/chief marketing officer Rob Price, at the company’s headquarters in Woonsocket, R.I.

Really, it’s nothing new, they’ll tell you; this has been going on for years now — about 16 years, actually, ever since it first launched the ExtraCare loyalty program in 1997.

But that commitment has definitely been amplified recently, and is resulting in a series of new initiatives and programs that the company either has introduced recently, or plans to introduce in the coming weeks and months, including:

  • myCustomer — A customer service initiative that began in January with a new email-based customer survey tool, and culminated in March with the training of all 188,000 CVS store associates on the critical behaviors needed to better engage customers and deliver the best possible customer experience;
  • Segmentation — How the company is identifying and communicating with its best customers;
  • myCVS — How it is segmenting its stores into manageable clusters to match the local trade area;
  • Conversion — How it is engaging customers to purchase more broadly across different departments of the store;
  • Supplier collaboration — how a new information gateway rolled out this fall, developed with IRI, is enabling its vendors to use and plan from the same data used by CVS’ own category managers; and
  • myWeeklyAd — Launched just last month, the digitized circular program creates a personalized list of offers based on the actual items an ExtraCare member historically purchases.

Identifying top customers

And just as it all began with ExtraCare, today, with more than 70 million active members, the program clearly remains a central driving component of CVS Caremark’s personalization efforts. “A big piece of personalization is how we take ExtraCare to the next level,” Cosby explained.

It is no news flash that after many years of being the only loyalty program in the drug channel, competition to ExtraCare has emerged in recent years, as both Rite Aid and Walgreens have introduced programs of their own. “We have seen a greater saturation of conventional loyalty programs,” Price noted. “What it has told us is that we need to be unconventional.”

But it’s not just being different for the sake of it. “The card itself — and even the basics of a loyalty card program — is not the heart and soul of customer engagement,” he explained. “The easy part is distributing cards — we’ve distributed 327 million cards. The disbursement of plastic is not the hard part. The hard part is the personalization, and the access and the ease of use, and the insights and relevance that you build over time.”

And that is an area in which CVS Caremark executives are quite confident that their 16-year head start gives it a significant advantage. “We think that relevance is an advantage that is very hard to catch up with,” Price said. “We think of ourselves as a matchmaker, or a personal shopper, between a customer and their very best deal — that’s something you can only earn over time.”

As CVS Caremark has discovered over the years, the true beauty of its ExtraCare loyalty program — used in about 84% of total front-store sales, according to the company — is the data that helps CVS identify segments of customers in order to deliver relevant rewards to each segment.

“What has become more important is providing more personalized service to our top customers based on their healthy habits,” Price said.

CVS’ best customers concentrate in one of three areas, he explained, which the company has identified as:

  • Health seekers — Customers who tend to over-index in terms of managing chronic conditions and who are enthusiastic and curious about how they can take personal control of their health;
  • Health strugglers — Similarly struggling with chronic conditions, but these customers tend to be more uncertain about how to take control; and
  • Quality actives — Valuing convenience and ease of use when taking care of their acute needs. “They may not have as much presence of chronic disease in the house,” Price explained, “but as they grow older, become caregivers and perhaps develop chronic disease themselves, and begin to fall into that ‘Seeking’ or ‘Struggling’ phase, we are going to be their preferred destination.”

Why health? Because it enables a powerful alignment between its best customers’ core interests and CVS Caremark’s core strengths as a dominant force in pharmacy healthcare innovation, and its broader mission to leverage its unique three-pronged, integrated structure to help fix health care — lowering costs, increasing access and improving outcomes.

One clear example of how personalization has played out in pharmacy and health care across the CVS Caremark enterprise is the work it has done with Pharmacy Advisor; by definition, that program, which identifies gaps in therapy and adherence at the patient level, relies on a personalized intervention with the patient, Cosby explained.

CVS Caremark pharmacy teams have performed more than 100 million of these types of patient interventions through Pharmacy Advisor since the launch of the program.

Similarly, ExtraCare has evolved in design in recent years, with a growing range of opt-in programs that aim at the sweet spot of its “Seekers/ Strugglers” strategy, including the addition of ExtraCare Pharmacy and Health Rewards and the ExtraCare Advantage for Diabetes program.

For the “Actives” part of its strategy, ExtraCare has spun off fun, hip programs like Beauty Club.

While executives are reticent to discuss how these opt-in niche programs would continue to evolve ExtraCare, it is clear that CVS will continue to work closely with its best vendor partners to leverage the program and its full digital, mobile and in-store platform to further personalize down to the needs and preferences and purchasing behavior of its best customers.

Conversion — customers and the shopping experience

Fifteen years worth of ExtraCare learnings also have dramatically influenced the way CVS Caremark markets and merchandises to its best customers. These learnings have informed a critical part of its overall retail strategy, Sansone told DSN — conversion.

“What we found was we had a lot of upside with existing customers,” Sansone explained. “Conversion is the way we bring personalization to existing customers; by giving them offers that are highly relevant to them, we can really engage them across the store.”

Prior research had shown the company that customers tend to shop a limited number of categories. For example, the data revealed that pain relief customers bought hair care products only 42% of the time and oral care customers bought vitamins only 36% of the time.

The most recent example of how it is personalizing the conversation with its best customers through ExtraCare is myWeeklyAd, which soft-launched in mid-September. The digitized circular initiative enables CVS to personalize its weekly promotions down to the user based on past purchasing behavior.

“Last week we had 45 million copies of one circular,” Sansone said, during the Sept. 20 interview. “Now we can create a different digital version for every customer.”

The offers are specific to the SKU and store level, she explained, and the ads even instruct the customer where to find the items on the shelf of their local store.

The ability to create this kind of personally curated, geo-mapped shopping lists is unprecedented in loyalty programs, Price added.

Store design and manageable clusters

Another key area, in which ExtraCare is helping to personalize the shopping experience, is in the way CVS Caremark designs and merchandises its stores.

Further leveraging the insights from ExtraCare, CVS Caremark continues to evolve its myCVS store clustering initiatives, which began in 2011 with the rollout of a special store format designed for its Urban cluster stores, which feature a vastly expanded consumables offering among other key features.

By the end of 2012, the company operated 450 Urban cluster stores, with plans to have 85 more in 2013. Currently, the company also is piloting a Suburban cluster format that features an “amplified health and beauty presence,” Price explained.

These PATH stores, as the company has identified them — short for “Personalized Access to Health” — offer “a more complete assortment and a more elevated experience, with a more shop-able healthcare quadrant … both in terms of physical access and navigation, and also how it integrates into pharmacy,” he said.

CVS Caremark also is applying the insights from its store-clustering initiatives to refreshes and remodels of its existing stores, as well into its regular planogram reviews and resets.

And along the way, it also is learning that some of the insights that come out of one cluster or another are not necessarily exclusive to just those stores. “Many of these insights are generalized — or ‘cluster-agnostic,’ as we call it,” Price added. “We see a lot of promise with some of these insights being weaved into our day-to-day business.”

While the overarching strategy of store clustering might be personalization, the real goal is not to create 7,500 different variations on the store prototype. “If we had our druthers, we would individualize the stores based on visit,” Price said. “But what you can do is leverage the information, not to individualized stores but to personalized stores, and tailor those stores into manageable groups that create an affirmative answer to the question: ‘Is this store for me?’”

No doubt, 15 years worth of ExtraCare data acquisition and the degree of engagement it has had with customers, “gives us an incredibly rich pool of insights to build stores that customers are going to love,” Price added, “but it’s a journey.”

And for CVS Caremark, all roads lead back to individualizing the shopping experience for its best customers.

From now on, this is personal.


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Trade spend and performance: Internal analgesics


DSN has partnered with Competitive Promotion Report and IRI to create a series of exclusive reports that analyze the impact of trade promotion activity on core front-end merchandising categories. The following are key findings for the internal analgesics category:

  • Both retail prices and retailer margins of total U.S. promoted products in the internal analgesics category have maintained the same relative price gap in the food, drug and mass channels over the past 21 months. Generally, retail prices have increased, and retailer margins have decreased across all three channels during this time period;
  • Average retailer margin of total U.S. non-promoted products increased slightly from 32.6% in December 2011 to 34.2% in August 2013, while average retailer margin of promoted products saw a hefty decrease from 42.6% to 36% during this period;
  • An analysis of average retailer margin by subcategory for the drug channel is revealing:
    – Tablets have decreased from 42.2% in December 2011 to 26.6% in August 2013;
    – Just as occurred in the food channel, there was a nominal increase for liquids from 33.5% to 34%; and
    – Feminine pain relievers average retailer margin in the drug channel during this same period declined from 39.4% to 34%;
  • Although there have been many swings, overall average trade spending — defined as off-invoice allowances and bill backs multiplied by promoted units — has declined over the past 21 months from a high of 3% of retail sales in December 2011 to a low of 1.2% in August 2013;
  • Unit sales tracked closely with average trade spending for the first six months of the study, but the two key metrics have not tracked consistently since that time;
  • During the past 21 months, manufacturers have averaged 2.3% trade spending against the liquids subcategory of the internal analgesics category, 2% on tablets and only 0.7% on feminine pain relievers:
    – Both average trade spending and unit sales for the tablets subcategory have declined slightly during the study period but appear to be positioned for increase in the coming months;
    – Unit sales did not necessarily track with average trade spending for liquids; and
    – Despite having the lowest share of the three subcategories, feminine pain relievers unit sales tracked most closely with average trade spending;
  • Relationship between average retailer margin and average trade spending varies by subcategory:
    – As manufacturers reduced average trade spending on tablets, average retailer margin percent decreased from 45.4% to 30.9%;
    – Overall, average trade spending for liquids fluctuated sharply down — from 3.5% to 1.3%; and
    – Inverse relationship between average retailer margin and average trade spending apparent during the first eight to 10 months of study and then a direct correlation after that;
  • Relationship between market share and average trade spending also varies by subcategory:
    – No apparent direct correlation between market share and average trade spending;
    – Average trade spending varied sharply from 3.5% to 1.5% during first eight months of the study, and declined gradually after that, and market share responded consistently; and
    – Despite fluctuations in average trade spending, market share for feminine pain relievers has increased gradually.

To view the full report with additional charts, click here.


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‘Out of this world’ display takes top nod in annual Design of the Times awards

BY Michael Johnsen

CHICAGO — You can say the big winner was literally out of this world.

Unilever’s Axe Apollo Astronaut floorstand, designed by RockTenn Merchandising Displays, was named the Design of the Times 2013 Platinum Award Winner by Path to Purchase Institute judges, during a special awards ceremony Wednesday evening, here at the annual Shopper Marketing Expo. 

Unilever beat out 16 other contestants in the drug channel. The display needed to be disruptive in nature and command the shopper’s attention, Unilever noted. With a life-size astronaut standing behind the latest Axe has to offer, the display succeeded in commanding the judges attention too.

RockTenn Merchandising Displays accepting the platinum award.

“During the first round of judging in August, judges evaluated each entry using the ‘the Four C’s’ criteria,” said Bill Schober, managing director of the Path to Purchase Institute. “They scored each entry on its ability to command attention, connect with the shopper, convey a clear message and close the sale.”

A special panel of judges convened on site Tuesday to select the final winners for gold, silver and bronze, as well as one platinum winner in each category and one overall “Best of the Times” winner across all retail eight categories, which included drug, food, mass, consumer electronics, convenience, home center/hardware, sporting goods and specialty stores.

Designed by Frank Mayer & Associates, the Wii U Interactive Retail Display Program, a finalist in the mass merchandisers category, was named “Best of the Times.”

Presenting the awards were Natalie Zimny of Target and Louis Dorado of Walgreens.

In addition to the Axe Apollo Astronaut display, here is a look the other 16 finalists in the drug store category, and how each fared in the final voting. (To view photos, click here.)

J&J Medicine Cabinet by International Paper (Gold)
Johnson & Johnson fielded a number of brands within this display that ran in some 2,600 Walgreens stores. The display’s primary objective was to use high introductory Balance Rewards point offerings and unique graphics to draw consumers to the endcap and generate incremental sales. The design leverages three insights of successful promotion:

  • Surprise — The design must be unexpected to draw the shopper to the display;
  • Relevance — Once attracted to the display, the products must be relevant to the target; and
  • Information — The offer must be easy to spot and quickly explained.

ZzzQuil ‘Snoring’ shelf tray by Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett and Menasha Packaging Co. (Gold)
Procter & Gamble featured this promotion of its new ZzzQuil sleep aid across more than 6,000 Walgreens stores. The objective was to drive trial of ZzzQuil and subsequently grow the overall sleep category. “We knew that our shopper’s trust in NyQuil to rest when she has a cold was paramount, so we used the iconic bottle visual that the two brands share and emphasized the ZzzQuil logo to drive brand recognition of the ‘Quil’ line of trusted products,” P&G noted.

J&J Neutrogena endcap by RockTenn Merchandising Displays (Silver)
Johnson & Johnson rolled this display into 5,000 Walgreens stores. The objective of the in-store activation tactic was to drive the Neutrogena brand with a unique endcap coinciding with a national Neutrogena FSI drop (May 5), a Neutrogena SaturDate (May 18) and the Neutrogena "Night at the W" (May 22). The goal was to encourage shoppers to purchase more than one product across Neutrogena skin care, cosmetics, bath, and sun care brands, and the display allowed J&J to bring all of the categories together in one place.

CoverGirl ‘What’s New’ 2013 displays by RockTenn Merchandising Displays (Silver)
Procter & Gamble sought to promote its new 2013 CoverGirl products in more than 7,000 Walmart, CVS/pharmacy, Target and Walgreens stores. Development of a new sleek “beauty case” to launch the first CoverGirl Gold new item initiatives would prove to be a win-win for logistics and in-store execution excellence, the supplier noted.

Duracell ‘Mini Tower’ floorstand by RockTenn Merchandising Displays (Silver)
Featuring Duracell Duralock batteries, Procter & Gamble helped to disrupt the consumer-shopping pattern to stop and take a look at the display. Batteries are typically an impulse purchase, and the display is meant to draw the consumer’s focus.

Palmolive Coconut & Cotton Glorifier by Straza Designers (Bronze)
Colgate-Palmolive Colombia sought to introduce shoppers in that country to a variant of the brand with its display that appeared in 100 drug stores in Colombia over an eight-month period. The display depicts the coconut converting into a natural soap. Also part of the display, a cotton stem conveys a sense of softness associated with the product.

Rimmel ‘London Look’ by Menasha Packaging Co. (Bronze)
In promoting its Rimmel Cosmetics, Coty put together a display that was featured in more than 4,000 Walgreens stores. The objective was to lift sales, build Coty’s Rimmel brand and launch two exclusive-to-Walgreens lines of lipstick and nail polish while promoting top seasonal foundations and a new mascara. The combination delivers plentiful stock and one-stop shopping for the "London Look."

Someday by Justin Bieber by Sonoco Display and Packaging (Bronze)
Elizabeth Arden put together this display in 5,000 Walgreens stores to drive awareness and trial for the new fragrance, Someday by Justin Bieber, at drug and mass retailers, and to obtain prime, high-visibility placement at Walgreens on its étagère fixture. According to Elizabeth Arden, incorporating fragrance tester-bottles to display vehicles is critically important in mass retail. Testers perform as a "silent" sales associate in this environment, providing an authentic sampling of the fragrance and bottle to shoppers.

belVita countertop display by Meridian Display (Bronze)
Kraft Foods rolled this display out across 300 drug, convenience and grocery stores in Puerto Rico. The objective of placing the belVita breakfast bars at the cash register in a single-serving size was to introduce shoppers to the new, healthy, on-the-go breakfast option.

L’Oréal new items tower by Pratt Industries (Bronze)
L’Oréal Cosmetics unveiled this display across more than 6,000 Walgreens stores to increase consumer awareness for its newest product offerings, and to create an innovative, interactive buying experience for the shopper. The tower needed to fit within an enclosed three-sided Walgreens space and draw the shoppers’ attention.

SensatioNail Island Fever counter unit by Menasha Packaging Co. (Bronze)
Pacific World promoted its gel nail supplies in an effort to leverage its leadership position in the gel polish category and showcase its vibrant array of summer shades. SensatioNail’s target shoppers are women, ages 18 years to 54 years, with household incomes of more than $50,000. When shopping, they expect to see what’s new and want to be delighted.

Pantene Expert Collection floorstand by Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett (Bronze)
In its Pantene Expert Collection display, Procter & Gamble helped to drive awareness and trial outside of the hair care aisle for an entirely new, premium sub-brand across some 5,000 Walgreens locations. The language used helped communicate that the line was geared for the youth-seeking hair care shopper — with the claim, "For hair that acts up to 10 Years Younger."

P&G Tim Gunn and the People’s Choice Awards endcap by Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett (Bronze)
Procter & Gamble promoted a number of products in this endcap — including Pantene, Crest, Olay, Cover Girl, Secret, Always and Tampax — in Walgreens and Duane Reade stores. The People’s Choice Awards was looking for a vehicle that would help its image, to regain its “cool,” to be taken seriously and to get people to participate and watch the show again. To help drive the point home, P&G invested in celebrity spokesman Tim Gunn, who delivered a call to action to shoppers to “make it fabulous.”

Vaseline Spray & Go countertop display by Sonoco Display and Packaging (Bronze)
In this display, Unilever’s new Vaseline Spray & Go Moisturizer helped to highlight the uniqueness of the product’s new breakthrough lotion and spray format/delivery system. The campaign’s eye-catching, premium-looking Spray & Go counter display helped to stop the shopper and allowed the breakthrough innovation — “absorbs in seconds … no waiting” — to initiate trial.

Walgreens Taylor Swift endcap by Menasha Packaging Co. (Bronze)
Walgreens successfully designed a “store within a store” featuring all items Taylor Swift timed to the debut of her "Red" album in Walgreens stores across the United States. According to the retailer, the product exclusive drew a younger demographic — girls and young women ages 14 years to 24 years — and provided an opportunity to capture their loyalty.

Walgreens Bus/Haunted House floor displays by Menasha Packaging Co. (Bronze)
Walgreens sought to drive multiple purchases and boost marketshare during the highly competitive back-to-school and Halloween shopping seasons with this unique display. The retailer wanted to give shoppers one-stop shopping with attractive pricepoints for seasonal, core drug store and household products, recapturing their core business from competitors.

 For more news from the Shopper Marketing Expo, visit


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Which area of the industry do you think Amazon's entry would shake up the most?