I was in Walgreens about a month ago to purchase a sale item. Walgreens had just changed it sale policy, though, and required me to sign up for a reward card to take advantage of the sale price. I’m not a fan of forced card programs, but I agreed because I needed the sale price.

Walgreens did several things right. For starters, it took less than 30 seconds for the sales clerk to find my name in the system and register me for the program. They had my information from when I purchased a prescription probably 10 years ago. Second, Walgreens linked my reward card automatically to an online account I had forgotten about. Third, I got an e-mail about a week later letting me know that linking my online account to my reward card lets me take advantage of sale prices both online and in the store.

Considering how long it has been since I’ve done any substantial business with Walgreens, I was both surprised and impressed with this level of service after a visit to the store.

Tom Thumb (a grocery chain in the Dallas area) has a new program called Just for U, which is linked to its reward card. The program is optional, but those who enroll have the potential to save hundreds of dollars a month. Just for U keeps track of what each customer buys and sends them personalized offers weekly by e-mail. It even compares the personalized prices to Wal-mart’s prices for the same product to show how much money customers are saving.

Financial institutions stand to learn a great deal from these retailers. Imagine how much relationships with members and customers would improve if they received a personalized e-mail after coming into a branch to make a transaction or inquire about a product or service. The e-mail could thank them for coming in for whatever reason they came in and offer them a product or service, an introductory rate on a credit card or information related to whatever service they were inquiring about. Think about how many more loans you might capture if your online banking product could track which pages existing members or customers visit on your website after they finish their online banking transactions. You could send them e-mails or messages through online banking, offering them special rates on loans or just telling them what the current rates are. Members and customers looking at savings products could get a personalized e-mail about savings options or the benefits of saving money.

The technology is available to make this happen. Online retailers do it all the time, and now places like Walgreens and Tom Thumb are capitalizing on this opportunity to build a more loyal customer base. Have you ever visited an online retailer, then logged on to Facebook to find an ad from that retailer? What if your members or customers left your site, logged on the Facebook and saw your ad?

You are not credit union or a bank—you are a retailer. If you want to compete like a retailer, you have to act like one. Make the investment in technology that helps improve customer/member relationships.