How CVS Pharmacy Failed at Contactless Payments by Overthinking Them

I’m truly in love with contactless payments. ApplePay and AndroidPay are quite possibly two of the most revolutionary things to come out of the birth of the smartphone.

Pay TerminalFrom not having to carry emergency cash on a run anymore (cabs all accept contactless payments in NYC,) to the speed in which I can tap, pay, and go, I find new benefits every single day by being able to pay without “paying,” per se.

And then, on the other side of technology, the side where Fred Flintstone starts his car with his feet, there’s CVS Pharmacy.

Whether I’m buying a three dollar protein drink or paying $50 for a monthly medication, (thanks, crappy Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance,) every time I pull out my phone and tap the payment terminal (with the giant “wireless” logos, I might add,) I get, without fail, the following message:

“CONTACTLESS PAYMENTS NOT ALLOWED.”

Sigh. It’s not limited to the type of credit card I’m using, either. I’ve tried with AmEx, Visa, and Mastercard. This has happened in Boston, NYC, and multiple other cities around the country, and not one CVS cashier could ever tell me why, until last night.

At a CVS in Boston, as I was again fumbling for my credit card, putting it in the machine, waiting 20 seconds for the code to generate from the PIN chip, and generally lamenting how this usually forward-thinking company could screw up this badly, all so I could buy nothing more than a six dollar roll of soft-wrap bandages for my foot, a cashier noticed my frustration.

“Sir, you should download the CVS app – You can use that to pay for your purchases today by touching the phone to the terminal.”

I was floored. “Wait a second,” I said. “CVS wants me to download an app, connect my credit card to it, and then, every time I need to pay, open my phone, find the app, open it, click “pay,” and then I can use contactless payments?”

“Um, yeah,” he said, looking at the floor ashamed. He realized the futility of what he was asking me to do.

Why, CVS? WHY? You can get the SAME marketing information from me on a regular basis without making me download the app – I already have a CVS card, you already know that I prefer Advil to Aleve. You know my medications. You have my insurance info, my doctor’s info, and you know that I buy an inordinate amount of bandaids because I chew on my cuticles. You have my mobile and home numbers, and you text and call when my medications are ready for pickup. WHY would you POSSIBLY force me through an additional six steps to pay you when you’re not gaining ANYTHING of value by having me do it? Additionally, not only are you not gaining anything from me you don’t already have, but you’re pushing me more towards drug stores that let me pay via ApplePay. And let’s be honest – In NYC, that’s as simple as walking an extra four feet.

Companies, come on. In 2017, don’t make the same mistake of overthinking your customer’s loyalty. In CVS’s case, they’re a drug store, and my loyalty to them is already a given – All my prescriptions go to them, they’re closest to my apartment, they have all my info. For the sake of upping their app adoption by one user, they’re going out of their way to lose me as a customer. Simply put, don’t do this. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer, and then truly ask if this is helpful. Because, well, it’s not.

I would love to give CVS a platform here to respond. If anyone from CVS wants to reach out to me to explain this, or even to correct me if I’m wrong, I’d welcome the opportunity to write a followup post on this.

But for now, I’m out of Methyl B12, and there’s a Duane Reade a block away.

  • Organizations often forget that it isn’t about them. It is about their customer needs and what their customer values. In this attention economy, the customer values their time. If I can touch my iPhone and pay for something then I will. It is quick and easy for me.

  • I don’t use contactless pay but I do have the CVS app on my phone. It’d be a decent, not great, app except it’s painfully slow. I just sent in refill requests for a couple of prescriptions (since I don’t like or use their readyfill option). Once it loaded it went well, but in the time it took to load i could have phoned them.

  • I tried it at Macy’s and froze every register where I attempted to use it…right before Christmas.

  • TARA

    I won’t even shop at CVS because I haven’t been able to sign up for their “loyalty card.” See, a cashier has no way to sign me up and activate a card. I have to fill out a form and mail it in or fill it out and hand it back and wait for them to submit it for processing. And it’s not just any form. It’s the kind where each letter of each word goes in its own box like in junior high testing. It’s unthinkable in this day and age.

    I go to CVS every three months to fill prescriptions because I have to through my insurance. Every once in a while I’ll add on a small item. When they ask if I have a card, and I ask if they can enroll me they are humiliated. If the item is “on sale” I just won’t buy it. I’m not gonna pay more because their “loyalty program” is so difficult to join.

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