CVS App Brings Home Hard-To-Get CRM Data

When CVS (NYSE:CVS) on Monday (July 1) launched a drug interaction feature on its mobile app, it was a classic example of a deep CRM gift that was positioned—correctly—as a truly useful shopper app. In short, it was one of those rare situations where the interests of the retailer and the shopper were perfectly aligned.

The feature itself is straight-forward. A customer can download all of their CVS prescriptions and then type in any other prescriptions that are being taken plus—and this is critical—any over-the-counter (non-prescription) things they are taking, anything from aspirin or a hay fever pill to Vitamin C to 5-Hour Energy. A consumer can't actually write anything, but must choose from a pre-populated CVS pulldown menu. That limits their choices, of course. The app then flags any problematic interactions, including pointing out interactions with grapefruit, milk or other common household items.

The potential benefits for the shopper are obvious. The benefits to the chain, though, are equally powerful. CVS now potentially gets three extremely valuable pieces of data: First, a list of prescription drugs presumably being filled by a rival pharmacy. What a clear chance to argue that those particular drugs should be brought over to CVS, an opportunity that doesn't exist without this information. Secondly, a list of various other things the customer is buying, many of which are likely sold by CVS. Another sales opportunity. Third, given that this is a mobile app, the data is already tied into a specific customer. This sharply enriches the CRM profile for CVS customers—and does it for very few dollars and in a way that seems to be altruistic.

Another advantage is truly an advantage for both the customer and CVS: This (hopefully) complete profile can now be shared with that store's pharmacist, as it's put in that customer's profile. The mobile app can only flag interactions going backwards. Once put into the system, the pharmacist can now be alerted when any new drug is prescribed or when POS detects a purchase of something that interacts with something on the mobile app list. In short, the ability for this to help the customer—and in turn give them an excellent reason to make all of their purchases at CVS—is huge.

Update Note: A CVS agency representative E-mailed that CVS is not currently storing any of the data for any purpose. Although CVS customers are typing in all of this data to a CVS app about potential prescription problematic interactions, none of that data will be accessible to CVS pharmacists. If true, that oddly takes away from one of the most potent reasons for customers to enter this data. If a shopper tells the CVS mobile app that he/she is taking a particular drug and then, two weeks later, is prescribed something that reacts badly with that medication and the pharmacist says nothing because he isn't allowed to know about it, any adverse reaction could prove legally problematic. Still, the chain is saying--through an agency person--that no data is currently being stored for any reason.

As for privacy, the CVS privacy policy makes this easy. Tried downloading the privacy policy five times on the mobile app. Whereas the drug interaction and every other interactive feature on the app worked perfectly, the app's link for privacy policy wouldn't work. Such is life. But the privacy policy did download fine from the Web site.

That policy gives the chain full authority to do anything it wants with this data. It specifically allows personal information to be used to "deliver (to) you customized content, advertising and savings that may be of interest to you" and to "communicate with you regarding updates, offers, and promotions." Hence, all of those sales efforts are green-lighted.

What about sharing this data with CVS marketers in addition to pharmacists? Not a problem: "CVS Caremark and its subsidiaries may share your personally identifiable information with one another to ensure that your experiences as a customer or user of CVS Caremark Sites is as seamless and enjoyable as possible." Can this sensitive data be given to random vendors? No problem: "In limited circumstances, CVS Caremark may share your personally identifiable information with third party companies to provide you with technologies, services, or content that may be of interest to you." They do require permission, but that's buried within the mandatory terms & conditions fineprint on the app so no problem there.

Kudos to CVS for creating something that could truly help its customers, but at the same time helping CVS revenue and vast data collection. This assumes they ultimately allow their pharmacists to know about the drugs they are encouraging their customers to enter into the CVS app.