Last fall, Walgreens launched Balance Rewards, which isn’t just a loyalty program, but is also the only way to access many of the store’s advertised discounts. However, a new report claims that Walgreens stores in four major cities are having a hard time making these discounted items available to shoppers, and that the items are frequently mislabeled anyway.
In March and April of this year, the folks at Change to Win, a union-backed advocacy group, sent secret shoppers into 200 Walgreens in four cities — New York, Miami, St. Louis, Los Angeles — with a shopping list of discounted products from the store’s weekly ad circular. Each store was visited three times, for a total of 600 visits across all four markets.
To test the range of discounted products, the shoppers’ lists included a mix of food items, over-the-counter meds, personal-care, and baby-related items; products were both name-brand and Walgreens’ house brand.
OUT OF STOCK
On average, CtW claims that 76% of surveyed stores were out of stock on at least one item, more than 40% were out of stock on at least two items, and 1-in-5 stores failed to stock at least three discounted items.
Miami had the highest overall out of stock rate, with more than 80% of stores missing at least one item. It also highest rate of being out of stock on three or more items, with around 1/3 of Miami Walgreens unable to keep multiple items on shelves. None of the stores in Miami or New York had every discounted item for all three of the shoppers’ visits.
St. Louis had the best results of the four cities, with around 70% of stores missing at least one discounted item, and only around 10% of stores being out of stock on at least three products.
MISSING AND INACCURATE SIGNS
In addition to the missing items, CtW shoppers found that 94% of surveyed Walgreens were missing discount signs on at least one item in each of the three visits. More than half of stores in the report were missing signs on at least three discounted items.
Some stores in New York had inaccurate signs on 70% of discounted items, while two Miami Walgreens were missing sale signs on more than 90% of items.
CtW says that none of the 200 stores in the survey had every shopping list item accurately labeled for each of the three visits.
We felt it only fair to give Walgreens a chance to respond or explain the criticism in the CtW survey, so we reached out to the company.
A Walgreens rep told us the company had no comment, but curiously added, “By the way, just to be sure you know, Change to Win is an organization created by the Service Employees Int’l Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO and related unions.”
We asked the rep to clarify what, specifically, he was implying by mentioning the unions — CtW also has the backing to the Teamsters, the United Farm Workers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union — but he has not replied.
In response to the implication that union involvement has biased the report, a rep for CtW tells Consumerist:
“We conducted the survey to measure how well Walgreen was implementing the sales critical to its loyalty program, and found that Walgreens often struggled to keep sales clearly labeled and well stocked. The survey was conducted with rigor and without bias.
“Change to Win a labor federation, and our member unions are stakeholders in the drugstore industry. Our affiliates represent tens of thousands of workers in drugstores, including at Walgreens, and participate in pension funds with over $200 billion in assets, including Walgreen Co. common stock.”
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM PEOPLE ON THE FRONT LINE
We know that many of you work at Walgreens around the country, and we’d love to hear your feedback on this report. Is the CtW survey in line with what you’ve seen in your stores? Are there possible explanations for why these items might be out of stock or mislabeled? Give us the inside scoop at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we will never reveal your identity to the public or to your employer.