Deerfield, Ill-based drugstore chain Walgreens recently embedded Walgreens Balance Rewards into Android Pay and Apple Pay schemes. The mobile loyalty schemes facilitate two-tap checkouts at 8,173 store locations, giving an estimated 85 million active Balance Rewards members an easy, secure and private way to earn and use points.
Walgreens is a division of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., a holding company focused on health and wellness. Its ecommerce footprint includes Walgreens.com, drugstore.com, Beauty.com, SkinStore.com and VisionDirect.com. Walgreens launched its Apple Pay and Android Pay solutions in November 2015 and August 2016, respectively. Customers checking out with Apple and Android phones will no longer need to scan or enter Balance Rewards card information to earn the same benefits offered by credit and debit cards, the company stated.
Abhi Dhar, Walgreen Co. Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, said Walgreens is continually looking for ways to use innovative, forward-thinking technologies to enhance the customer experience. "We're proud to have been the first retailer to integrate our loyalty program with the two leading mobile payment providers and to give our customers another channel for greater access, choice and convenience with our loyalty program," he said.
Walgreens stated that Android Pay and Apple Pay apps can securely store Balance Rewards cards. The first tap of a smartphone will activate a customer's unique reward card information and balances in real time; the second tap will then initiate payment using an embedded credit or debit card product within the payment app.
The Apple version of Walgreens mobile loyalty solution, with biometric and geolocation capabilities, works on iOS versions 9 and higher on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus and Apple Watch.
Users can place their finger on Touch ID while tapping their iPhones near a contactless reader to activate their rewards account information. Apple Watch users can double-click a side button, select their Balance Rewards card, and display the Apple Watch face to the reader. An optional automatic detection setting will alert the iPhone when it enters a Walgreens store, where it will automatically bring up the Balance Rewards card at checkout.
Android Pay users can also hold their Android devices near a PIN pad, first to display their reward card information, and then to process their payment using a card embedded in the Android Pay app. Android devices with fingerprint scanners can be used to unlock and authorize Android Pay and Samsung Pay apps. Android Pay supports near field communication-enabled phones running Android 4.4 KitKat and higher. The free app is available at the Google Play Store.
Google Inc. Senior Director of Product Management Pali Bhat said the Android Pay solution is designed to make in-store payments simpler by giving customers instant, frictionless access to their loyalty cards at checkout, giving Walgreens customers the ability to "speed through the entire checkout process in as few as two taps with their Android phones."
While being one of the first retailers to directly integrate its rewards program into Apple Pay and Android Pay may give Walgreens a competitive advantage and bragging rights, some users would like to see an even smoother, single-click checkout process. As Blogger Steve Dent wrote in Engadget, "Now, if they could just get it down to one tap, all of our first-world payment issues will be sorted."
Walgreens supports a diversified array of payment methods, including credit, debit, EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) and other mobile wallets, company representatives noted. Payments analysts expect mobile payments and mobile-enabled loyalty programs to eventually overtake traditional plastic credit card usage in the United States and in Western European countries, as retailers become accustomed to people transacting with smartphones at the POS.
Peter Rojas, co-founder of technology blogs Engadget and Gizmodo, said, "I think the biggest change, and one that we're already starting to see take shape, is that globally the majority of Internet usage will be done via a mobile device, and for most people the mobile web will be their primary – if not their only – way of experiencing the Internet."
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