Sunday, December 4, 2011

Drugstore Dilemma

Sunday morning in my house is all about relaxing, playing and clipping.  Specifically, clipping whatever coupons we still need for our CVS match-up.  This is because for my needs, location and time to coupon, CVS is my drugstore of choice.  It took me some time to come to this decision, and each couponer has their favorite store.  

Earlier this year when I really started taking coupons seriously, I found myself comparing deals at Walgreens and CVS, usually visiting both stores every week.  I don't have a Rite Aid as close by, so I have not yet explored that option.  The difference in what I paid for most deals was right around $.50, which is a big deal when you're spending the time to pay as little as possible for the things you need.  

Here are the major differences which led to my decision to focus on CVS:

Rewards Structure

Walgreens Register Rewards actually say Manufacturer's Coupon at the top.  This means that when you use them, it's for a set amount of money off another item, not to exceed the value of the single item, and no other coupons can be used.  Many Walgreen's believers will teach the idea of "fillers".  This is when you get very low priced items to increase your count, thus allowing for more coupons to be "combined" with Register Rewards.  

CVS Extra Care Bucks can be used like cash; they are truly store money back rather than carrying the restrictions of manufacturer coupons.  This allows for my favorite couponing trifecta; on sale, have a coupon, get money back!  My CVS philosophy is "Keep it Rolling".  Your first purchase will obviously cost you something, but if you always focus on items that provide ECB rewards and have a cost after coupons less than your current ECB, you can continue to pay little to nothing out of pocket and get more rewards back. 

Promotion Limits

Many people don't like that CVS limits the number of times you can complete a promotional deal which allows for ECB.  The majority of these deals indicate limit 1 per household, though some allow 2 or up to 5 for many cosmetics deals.  Walgreens in contrast limits the number of times you can earn a particular Register Reward per transaction.  Since they don't have a customer loyalty card, they can allow as many transactions as you want to make the same deal over and over.  

A few months ago I found myself taking advantage of this Walgreens freedom.  On one particular day, I had four transactions and earned $32 in register rewards.  Everything I bought was on sale, plus I had coupons.  This felt like a great start!  This whole process took over two hours, and I spent over $70 on tons of products I didn't particularly need that many of all at once.  Being limited to one of any particular deal means I don't over-spend and I'm not "that crazy coupon lady" in Walgreens holding up the line.  The limits at CVS keep me in check.  

What's even worse?  I didn't even have a chance to use all of the $32 in rewards.  The Walgreens Register Rewards are only good for two weeks from the date they are printed, without exception, because they are manufacturer coupons and the store will not be reimbursed for the value if used beyond that date.  I had big plans back in September to use the rest of my RR's on the very date they were going to expire.  I didn't use them the week before because I was so drained from the previous week's deals, I couldn't put another one together with the added variable of "fillers".  In the end, I had $17 in RR to use.  

I couldn't just run into the store and get $17 worth of contact solution or a bunch of food, just to keep them from going to waste because of the redemption structure.  This is exactly what I would have done at CVS.  That very day, my husband became very ill and was hospitalized.  He was there for four days, and my RR's expired.  I called their customer service line and was told there was no option to use them beyond the expiration date.  At that moment, I no longer saw the value in Register Rewards.  However, I will say, if you use the structure of The Krazy Coupon Lady  and her Extreme Couponing scenarios, that is the only way to do Walgreens!  Instead of doing one deal four or more times, you buy one item with a high RR value, and start rolling from there.

Staff and Store Structure

Every city is different, and the structure and demographic of each determines the role that different stores play in the community.  For mine, Walgreens is the convenient in-and-out store when you need to grab that one thing you forgot.  This has a lot to do with its location right at the main intersection in town.  CVS, though not far away from Walgreens, is in a strip mall, and has less of a quick stop feel.  

How does this impact a couponer?  A lot!  Any store where people expect to get an item an go can become a hostile and stressful place when you are a crazy coupon lady.  The cashier gets frustrated, as do the customers when you clog the line for 20 minutes with four or more transactions.  This is a double whammy for my town, since the "quick" store is also the one that allows multiple deals in separate transactions.

The opposite is true for CVS; the relaxing combination of people who who have chosen that particular store for a reason not for convenience, with the simplicity of their promotion structure.  I know what I'm getting, I get each deal once, and I'm done.  I don't have to think about filler items or keeping items separated in my cart.  Plus, since they're not as busy, the cashiers all know me, and the manager expects me every Sunday.  He and I are on a first name basis because he is always willing to check for more of any products that may already be gone, and knows that I am grateful for all he does to help me.

With that said...

These are just my personal conclusions based on my priorities, where I live and what I have for time given my family and professional obligations.  The moral of the story is educate yourself on each store's rewards program.  Check the Ads for deals and get a sense of which store appeals to you and the types of products you shop for.  In the end, you may shop multiple stores to get the best savings.  I have to admit...when Walgreens has a great deal that you would be insane to pass up, I'm so there!!!

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