The highly successful Walgreens Balance Rewards loyalty program launched in September 2012 now has more than 85 million members, according to Adam Holyk, Group Vice-President, Customer Loyalty and Insights at Walgreens. Store associates across the country have played a significant role in the program’s success.

“A good portion of the credit is tied back to our 240,000 team members in stores and their ability to embrace the program and communicate the value and engage the customers,” Holyk told Loyalty 360.

What’s more, Holyk said that the company’s loyalty journey has been paved with success due to clear executive support.

The Balance Rewards loyalty program has shown steady and surprising progress. The program had 64 million members through March, 2013; 68 million through April; and 72 million through May.

In April the Balance Rewards loyalty program expanded its benefits to target healthy behavior – referred to as Steps With Balance Rewards. Now, walking, running, and weight management goals can be logged and tracked through Steps with Balance Rewards. Members receive 20 points per mile, as well as 20 points per day for tracking their weight. Users also can log individual frequent activities that will earn points when recorded.

Members can register for Steps with Balance Rewards simply by signing into their Balance Rewards account online or through the Walgreens mobile app. To earn points, members need to log their activities within the activity journal.

“At the end of the day, we’re not viewing this simply as a loyalty program,” Holyk said. “We have a broader focus on customers from an experience and engagement point of view. For Walgreens, the success of the program goes beyond a transactional program. It is part of the overall corporate focus and business strategy, and connects with the brand’s purpose to help people get healthy, stay healthy, and live well.”

Holyk said one of the main keys to success is listening to the customer and using insights gleaned from the program.

“I think it’s related to the scalablity,” Holyk said. “Inherently, if we go back 112 years (when the company was founded), there was definitely a focus on the customer – one customer at a time. Today with 8,000-plus stores we rely heavily on having technology to enable that interaction and collect information and feedback. A lot of the credit also goes to our IT organization.

Holyk said the program’s focus on healthy living leads to more of an emotional connection and holistic view of members.

“Ultimately, the perspective is building long-term loyalty,” he explained. “We want to reinforce our positioning in the marketplace with our program. There are definitely many proof points we’ve been able to learn with our partnership with Alliance Boots.”

Walgreens and Alliance Boots announced a strategic partnership in June 2012. Based on the “Boots Advantage Card” loyalty program administered by Alliance Boots, which allows customers to earn points on purchases for redemption later – Walgreens Balance Rewards loyalty program has played an instrumental role in achieving sales growth as consumers have made repeat purchases to accumulate points on their cards.

With 13 months’ worth of behavioral data, Holyk said Walgreens can better create targeted messages for its program members.

“Walgreens has a history of innovation and it’s something we’re continuously on the lookout for,” Holyk said. “Customer response (to the loyalty program) has definitely exceeded our plans and goals from an enrollment perspective and engagement perspective.”

Holyk said Walgreens delivers relevant content and product information based on what its customers are purchasing.

“We made a deliberate choice when we introduced the program to offer customers an opportunity to earn and redeem points,” Holyk said. “That gets us to the journey to offer rewards to our best customers. Customers in the program are definitely taking advantage of the savings. But over time as they understand the value of points, we’re seeing changes around collecting more points, and changes on how they redeem those points as well.”

Any advice to brands considering a loyalty program?

“Companies need to think of loyalty more broadly than a loyalty program,” Holyk said. “It needs to be part of a broader commitment to focus on customers, and ensure it connects with the brand and what the brand stands for.”

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