Drug store chain Walgreens announced this morning its loyalty program will now be available through Apple Pay – making it the first U.S. retailer to integrate their customer rewards platform with Apple’s mobile payments service. The added support will allow the chain’s over 85 million Balance Rewards members the ability to use Apple Pay at checkout using either their iPhone or Apple Watch.
To use the service, customers have to first add their Rewards card information to Apple’s Wallet app on iOS 9, then place their finger on Touch ID while holding the phone near the contactless reader at checkout. Apple Watch owners, instead, can double-click the side button, pick their Rewards card, then hold their watch face up to the reader.
Apple Pay’s support for loyalty cards was announced earlier this year, alongside iOS 9. The feature was part of an upgraded Apple Pay experience, which also included the rebranding of “Passbook” to “Wallet.” In addition to payment cards, like credit and debit cards, the new Wallet app also allows for store cards and rewards cards. Other retailers, including Kohl’s, JC Penney and BJ’s said they would offer Apple Pay compatibility with their own store cards. (Kohl’s is now live).
Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread, Coca-Cola, and Wegmans Food Markets are planning loyalty card integrations, too. Walgreens, though, will be one of the larger integrations, as well as the first. Kohl’s rewards programs, for example, has 30 million members versus Walgreens’ 80 million plus.
“We’re excited to be the first to provide our customers with increased ease of access to their Balance Rewards account and information when using Apple Pay,” said Sona Chawla, president of digital and chief marketing officer for Walgreens, in a statement. “This offering supports our commitment to removing friction and enabling a simple and convenient customer experience.”
Before Apple Pay support, Walgreens Rewards card members would have to scan their card at checkout before making their payment. You could do this either using a physical card provided by the retailer, or you could pull up the card in Passbook (now Wallet) then scan the barcode. With Apple Pay, however, the process is a bit more automated as the information is sent digitally through Apple’s NFC-based payments platform.
However, when you use loyalty cards with Apple Pay, you can’t just tap your phone one time and have all the payment and reward info sent in a single shot. Instead, you have to tap your phone (or Watch) once to send your loyalty info, then a second time to actually pay through your credit or debit card. The process may be only slightly faster than swiping a card, but may be speedier overall since you don’t have to dig around in your wallet or purse first to pull out the card in the first place.
It’s worth pointing out that Apple Pay is designed to allow for payment and loyalty information to be sent in a single tap, but it’s up the retailer how they want to configure this. Walgreens chose to make it a two-step process. We understand they did so that customers could see their savings and discounts register before they make their payment.
Walgreens was already one of the first retailers to accept Apple Pay, so it’s not surprising that it’s also one of the first partners to go live with support for loyalty cards.
Apple’s mobile payment service has been steadily growing, seeing double-digit growth month-over-month, and support from over 2,500 banks in the U.S. and U.K. The company said this June that Apple Pay was poised to top one million supported locations in the U.S. – a number which has now reached. By year-end, it expects to be live in 1.5 million stores.