This will come as no surprise to those who do the drug stores, but it seems Walgreens has a problem keeping sale items in stock. Go figure!
A new report by the union-backed advocacy group Walgreen Strategy Watch alleges that the drug store chain’s out-of-stock problems are just as severe as frustrated shoppers have long complained. The report, titled “Off Balance” (a play on Walgreens’ eight-month-old loyalty program Balance Rewards) and subtitled “Out-of-Stock and Mislabeled Sale Items at Walgreens”, argues that the problem is more than just an annoyance. “Walgreen’s failure to execute the most basic of retail tasks – keeping its shelves fully stocked and correctly labeled – may undercut its efforts to improve customer experience and build loyalty,” the report reads.
In March and April of this year, researchers with Walgreen Strategy Watch’s affiliated group, Change to Win, visited 50 Walgreens stores, three times each, in Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and St. Louis – for a total of 600 visits in all. “Out-of-stock and mislabeled sale items were widespread,” they found. 76% of stores were out of at least one sale item during every visit. Overall, across all stores, an average of 1 in 8 sale items were found to have been out of stock. “For example,” the report reads, “a 27-count pack of Walgreen brand diapers was out of stock in 26% of stores surveyed. An 8-ounce container of Folgers Instant Coffee was out of stock in 27% of stores surveyed.” The missing items were “typical products consumers purchase in drug stores.”
In addition, fully 94% of stores were found to have mislabeled at least one sale item. Across all stores, 25% of sale items were not marked on the shelves as being on sale at all.
Of particular concern, the report asserts, is the effect of all this on customer loyalty, and Walgreens’ Balance Rewards program. You have to be a member to get advertised sale prices, but if you can’t find what’s on sale, there’s not much point being a member – or being loyal to Walgreens – at all. The report notes some concerns about Balance Rewards that were first brought to light right here on Coupons in the News (we didn’t get cited in the report’s footnotes, but hey, happy to have the researchers as readers!) First, there’s the fact that Walgreens has acknowledged that many shoppers don’t like that they’re forced to join the loyalty program just to get sale prices (read: “Walgreens: ‘There Are Some People Who Do Not Like’ Balance Rewards”). And in the most recent figure provided by Walgreens in December, only about 5% of Balance Rewards members had redeemed any rewards points they’d accumulated (read: “Walgreens Balance Rewards: Many Have Signed Up, Few Have Cashed In”).
Critics of the report say, consider the source: Change to Win is a labor union federation, and among its conclusions are that Walgreens is not sufficiently staffed to manage its own sales. Others argue that you could make the case that just about any retailer can have out-of-stock issues. And in the case of Walmart, many have done just that (read: “Long Lines, Empty Shelves: Is Shopping at Walmart That Unpleasant?”). Walgreens hasn’t commented on the content of this particular report, except to emphasize who the authors are.
But couponers and deal-seekers have known for a long time that the drug stores – and Walgreens in particular – have had problems keeping sale items in stock, even before Balance Rewards came along. “I like to shop Walgreens for the deals but gee whiz, 9 times out of 10 they are out-of-stock on the sale items!” reads a post on the forum HotCouponWorld from back in 2010. “Surely they know in advance what’s going on sale & could get in ample supply, but they don’t.” A year later, the forum A Full Cup featured a thread called “Why is Walgreens always out of stock of everything on sale?” Some commenters suggested asking for rain checks, though many had grown weary of having to do so, and others remarked that when they asked about an out-of-stock item, a supply suddenly turned up “in the back.” One of the most determined deal-seekers discovered the secret to getting everything on her list: “Try going Thursday evenings around 6:00pm in a less desirable neighborhood with multiple stores in the same area.”
Now that’s dedication. But of course, few shoppers really want to jump through those kinds of hoops just to get what they need, or what Walgreens says is on sale that week. Getting Balance Rewards points for your purchases is nice in theory, but you can’t get points if you can’t even find the items that offer points. And that, Walgreens’ critics say, is the whole point.
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