CVS Pharmacy Writes Future by Saying Good Bye to Cigarettes

Bravo to CVS for their Decision to Stop Selling Tobacco Products

Some think it to be a poor decision that will harm earnings and inconvenience customers. If we were living in a different time, with different knowledge, and CVS was scrapping by needing to sell anything in order to put food on the table, I’d agree. But, this isn’t the case. Healthcare has become more complicated, competitive, and future focused. Meanwhile, CVS has become an integrated pharmacy company with a wide and growing breadth of capabilities. Punching customers in the face and then offering to dress their wounds isn’t consistent thinking and it isn’t good business. With smoking being the leading cause of premature disease and death in the United States and it exacerbating other conditions like hypertension and diabetes, it no longer makes sense for a healthy-human centered business to continue supporting such a deadly habit.

A Polarizing Decision
The decision to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco related product is polarizing. CVS customers that smoke will now likely shop elsewhere for cigarettes and other needed items as well. But, the nonsmoker audience that already eschewed tobacco products will likely see the company as more committed to its promise of helping people on their path to better health. This change actually frees up CVS from conflicting and confusing messages as they begin to offer smoking cessation therapy and engage on a national smoking cessation program.

A Courageous Decision
It is as though CVS is saying, “If you want a serious pharmacy that is interested in making and keeping people healthy, then come to CVS. But, if you demand a nicotine fix from your local pharmacy in addition to making other purchases, then please shop elsewhere.” Saying something IS saying something. CVS will likely attract a multitude of new customers who believe that taking a stand against smoking, is taking a stand towards healthier communities.

“We’ve got 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners who are helping millions of patients each and every day,” said Larry Merlo, the chief executive of CVS Caremark.

In my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations, one of the recipes I share is especially relevant to this story. It is also relevant to every organization you’ll ever be a part of.

From the book:
Recipe #3: Write the Future You Want
Create the stories that you wished customers would retell. Write these down. In Chapter 7: Improving the Journey, you’ll learn some tools and techniques to intentionally design these new customer journeys.

Imagine the powerful stories told by the millions of patients that are helped by the 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners serving across 7,600 CVS stores. Stories about managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, kicking the smoking habit, getting flu shots, alleviating symptoms, managing diseases, etc. In short, stories about getting healthier, being more comfortable, and managing diseases throughout our human journey.

With customers (patients) at the center of focus and with the future in mind, opportunities abound. CVS and its stakeholders can design new services that win the hearts and minds of customers, increase employee engagement, more than offset the lost revenue from cigarette sales, and ultimately lower the cost of healthcare. But, the product to cut or shape shouldn’t begin and end with cigarettes alone. Fully embracing Recipe #3 will have CVS moving toward a future where other current products are scrutinized and similarly dropped, while other products might be newly introduced. Again, it all depends upon the stories we wish our customers to recall and tell others.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg Olson is the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. See the Book and Author Summary PDF or find the book on Amazon.

When Metrics Fail it is Time to Change the Conversation: a Walk in the Park with an Abandoned Shopping Cart

abandoned shopping cart found on sidewalk in the evening - Delightability researchLurking beneath the metrics you’ll find the truth. This truth may have slowly crept up on you and suddenly poked you in the eye as a new reality. But, you say, “We have these metrics and this is the way we measure, and see, and do things around here.” Exactly right, but exactly wrong too.

Here is an easy target to pick on. Abandoned shopping carts litter the landscape most everywhere. City Councils have metrics and want to hold stores accountable for their wayward carts. Stores have metrics and are stuck between cracking down on their patrons and giving them freedom to take carts as needed. Biases are at play too. What looks like a theft problem to the store’s Loss Prevention Manager is a transportation problem to the “bus stop mom” or “urban retirement dweller.” Once you get past the bias that this is a purely homeless problem, you’ll see that kids, and moms, and grandpas all play a part in this problem. Even police are being called upon by municipalities to “do something about this menace.” One police department recently posted on their Facebook page a reminder to the public, that it is a crime to take a shopping cart off of store premises. Each of the stakeholders, save the shopper themselves, have metrics, but who is right here?

The world has shifted – shopping carts have gotten smaller and more maneuverable, the price of gas has continued to rise, and some have opted out of owning personal transportation in favor of walking or using public transportation. But, amid these changes, stores are probably blind to the transportation realities their customers face.

While stores have found more and more ways to understand our shopping preferences and probably have metrics related to the foods we buy and the prices we’re willing to pay, they really have little understanding of why we choose their store, how we got there, and if a grocery cart will be on our list of items to take home today.

So, there you have it, amid all of those metrics the human behind the customer has been forgotten and that is exactly wrong. Imagine if the metrics for a given store revolved less around how much orange juice we purchased and at what price and instead examined who the shopper is and what transportation they used to get to and from the store. That might just spawn some new services and brand loyalty to the stores with courage enough to change the conversation.

“Don’t get so set on your goal that you lose your humanity.”
Cicero, Roman author,orator, & politician (106 BC – 43 BC)

If you are a grocery store leader, city council member, or other stakeholder to the problem and would like to talk, please contact us. We’d love to share with you the findings of a public workshop we hosted where we brought people together from all walks of life to discuss, dive into, and propose a range of possible solutions to the abandoned shopping cart problem.

Here are a few photos of abandoned shopping carts seen around town.  This could be Anytown, USA or beyond.

View the workshop photo album and visit the Big Idea Toolkit to learn more about the large format visual planning system that we used to guide our workshop discussion.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.