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Walmart Pharmacy
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The Cheapest Pharmacy: Walmart vs. Walgreens vs. CVS and More

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Drugstores vs. Big-Box and Grocery Store Pharmacies

Cheapism compared out-of-pocket prices at the country's largest chain pharmacies: CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, Target*, and Kroger. Here's what we found:

  • In our survey of prescription drug prices, stand-alone CVS pharmacies and those inside Target stores narrowly edged out Walmart and undercut the other major drugstores by more than $600.
  • When we compared prices for a range of vaccinations, Walgreens was the overall winner but not the cheapest for any one vaccine. Walmart had the lowest prices for several common vaccines, including the seasonal flu shot.
  • Although Target had the lowest total for a selection of over-the-counter remedies and vitamins, as well as prescription drugs, most of the items were cheapest at Walmart.
  • Walmart also had the edge for personal care and beauty products.
  • Consumers looking for the cheapest pharmacy are generally better off shopping in the pharmacy departments at big-box stores than at the leading drugstore chains.

* Although CVS acquired Target pharmacies in 2015, and prescription and immunization pricing are the same, we considered the two stores separate entities for our price comparisons.



Note: In the tables below, the lowest prices for individual items across all six stores, as well as the stores' overall totals, appear in bold.


Prescription Drug Prices

CVS vs. Rite Aid vs. Walgreens

  • CVS was the overall winner among all six pharmacies, with a total of $659.20, but cheapest for only two prescriptions: generic Celebrex and NuvaRing birth control.
  • Rite Aid's total was more than twice as much, at $1,266.87, although it was the cheapest place to get generic Ambien.
  • Walgreens' total was the highest, at $1,348.27.


Generic Medication
CVS
Rite Aid
Walgreens
Azithromycin (Zithromax)
250 mg, 5 days
$36.99
$49.99
$39.99
Atorvastatin Calcium (Lipitor)
10 mg
$94.99
$119.99
$94.59
Lisinopril (Prinivil)
10 mg
$12.59
$35.99
$15.99
Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
15 mg
$161.99
$180.99
$209.99
Metformin (Glucophage)
500 mg
$11.99
$22.99
$14.99
Zolpidem (Ambien)
5 mg
$54.99
$11.99
$64.99
Sertraline (Zoloft)
25 mg
$20.83
$74.99
$29.99
Finasteride (Propecia)
1 mg
$81.38
$79.99
$80.99
Clopidogrel (Plavix)
75 mg
$20.80
$159.99
$114.09
Celecoxib (Celebrex)
200 mg
$56.30
$199.99
$217.49
Amlodipine Besylate (Norvasc)
5 mg
$19.20
$51.99
$45.99
Losartan Potassium (Cozaar)
50 mg
$16.90
$51.99
$56.19
NuvaRing single
$70.25
$225.99
$362.99
TOTAL
$659.20
Winner
$1,266.87
$1,348.27



Prescription Drug Prices: Kroger vs. Target vs. Walmart

  • Target/CVS, the overall winner, owes its entire price advantage to only two prescriptions: celecoxib and NuvaRing cost more than twice as much elsewhere.
  • Walmart's total was only a few dollars more, at $662.56, and it was the cheapest source for most of the drugs on our list.
  • Kroger's total was the highest of the grocery and big-box stores, at $685.87.
  • All undercut Walgreens and Rite Aid by more than $500.


Generic Medication
Target/CVS
Kroger
Walmart
Azithromycin (Zithromax)
250 mg, 5 days
$36.99
$14.49
$21.90
Atorvastatin Calcium (Lipitor)
10 mg
$94.99
$31.49
$15
Lisinopril (Prinivil)
10 mg
$12.59
$5.99
$4
Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
15 mg
$161.99
$57.99
$71.14
Metformin (Glucophage)
500 mg
$11.99
$5.99
$4
Zolpidem (Ambien)
5 mg
$54.99
$41.49
$47.87
Sertraline (Zoloft)
25 mg
$20.83
$14.99
$9
Finasteride (Propecia)
1 mg
$81.38
$44.99
$46.54
Clopidogrel (Plavix)
75 mg
$20.80
$39.49
$15
Celecoxib (Celebrex)
200 mg
$56.30
$190.99
$215.05
Amlodipine Besylate (Norvasc)
5 mg
$19.20
$14.99
$9
Losartan Potassium (Cozaar)
50 mg
$16.90
$27.99
$9
NuvaRing single
$70.25
$194.99
$195.06
TOTAL
$659.20
Winner
$685.87
$662.56

Vaccine Prices

CVS vs. Rite Aid vs. Walgreens

  • Walgreens was the overall winner, with a total of $1,060.91, but not the cheapest place to get any one vaccine.
  • CVS would have been the winner if not for the pneumococcal vaccine, which was more than $100 cheaper at Walgreens or Rite Aid.
  • Rite Aid's total was the highest, at $1,237.91.


Vaccine
CVS
Rite Aid
Walgreens
Flu shot
(seasonal)
$45.99
$45.99
$42.49
Flu shot
(high dose)
$73.99
$84.99
$81.49
Hepatitis A
(adult)
$122.99
$201.99
$124.99
Hepatitis B
(adult)
$95.59
$201.99
$95.99
Pneumococcal
(Prevnar 13)
$260.99
$150.99
$152.99
Tdap
$77.59
$79.99
$78.99
Shingles
$199.99
$194.99
$198.99
Meningococcal
$161.99
$189.99
$168.99
MMR
$115.99
$142.99
$115.99
TOTAL
$1,155.11
$1,293.91
$1,060.91
Winner



Vaccine Prices: Kroger vs. Target vs. Walmart

  • Target/CVS was the winner among the big-box and grocery chains, with a total of $1,155.11.
  • Walmart's high prices for the hepatitis B and meningococcal vaccines drove up its overall total to $1,263.01.
  • Kroger fell in the middle, at $1,178.


Vaccine
Target
Kroger
Walmart
Flu shot
(seasonal)
$45.99
$45
$36.88
Flu shot
(high dose)
$73.99
$85
$76.50
Hepatitis A
(adult)
$122.99
$119
$87.37
Hepatitis B
(adult)
$95.59
$109
$200.97
Pneumococcal
(Prevnar 13)
$260.99
$260
$243.03
Tdap
$77.59
$85
$60.63
Shingles
$199.99
$195
$205.90
Meningococcal
$161.99
$165
$250.07
MMR
$115.99
$115
$101.66
TOTAL
$1,155.11
Winner
$1,178
$1,263.01


Over-the-Counter Medication/Vitamin Prices Comparison

CVS vs. Rite Aid vs. Walgreens

  • Rite Aid was the winner among drugstores, with a total of $292.51.
  • Walgreens' total is about $15 more, at $307.41.
  • CVS's total is the highest, at $344.61.


Product
CVS
Rite Aid
Walgreens
Centrum Silver Vitamins
(100 ct.)
$11.99
$11.99
$12.49
DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu
(24 ct.)
$14.79
$12.99
$13.49
Mucinex DM Expectorant and Cough Suppressant
(20 ct.)
$16.99
$18.99
$13.49
Advil
(24 ct.)
$5.29
$3.99
$4.99
Pepto-Bismol
(16 fl. oz.)
$9.49
$6.49
$7.79
Infant Tylenol
(2 fl. oz.)
$11.99
$8.99
$10.99
Prilosec OTC
(42 ct.)
$29.49
$26.99
$27.99
Abreva Cold Sore Treatment
(.07 oz.)
$22.99
$18.99
$20.29
Rogaine Men’s Foam
(3 mos.)
$56.99
$44.99
$46.99
Afrin Original Nasal Spray
(.5 oz.)
$10.79
$5.99
$6.49
Flonase Allergy Relief
(.34 oz./ 60 sprays)
$16.99
$15.99
$15.69
Delsym Cough Suppressant
(5 oz.)
$20.49
$17.49
$14.99
Claritin Non-Drowsy Indoor/Outdoor Allergies
(10 ct.)
$12.79
$12.49
$12.79
Cepacol Extra Strength Sore Throat Lozenges
(16 ct.)
$6.29
$3.29
$3.49
Orajel Severe Toothache and Gum Relief
(.33 oz.)
$11.99
$7.99
$11.49
Excedrin Migraine
(100 ct.)
$13.49
$10.99
$11.99
One A Day VitaCraves Women’s/Men’s
(70 ct.)
$9.99
$7.99
$9.99
Pepcid AC Original Strength
(30 ct.)
$11.79
$9.39
$11.99
Plan B One-Step Emergency Contraceptive
$49.99
$47.49
$49.99
TOTAL
$344.61
$292.51
Winner
$307.41



OTC Medication/Vitamin Prices: Kroger vs. Target vs. Walmart

  • Target was the overall winner, with a total of $286.79.
  • Walmart's total was the highest of the big-box/grocery chains, at $327.08.
  • However, matching the other stores' price on a single item, Rogaine Men’s Foam, would put Walmart on par with Kroger, at about $293.

Product
Kroger
Target
Walmart
Centrum Silver Vitamins
(100 ct.)
$9.99
$9.99
$9.74
DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu
(24 ct.)
$10.99
$11.99
$9.94
Mucinex DM Expectorant and Cough Suppressant
(20 ct.)
$13.99
$12.49
$12.47
Advil
(24 ct.)
$4.29
$3.49
$3.98
Pepto-Bismol
(16 fl. oz.)
$6.99
$6.49
$6.44
Infant Tylenol
(2 fl. oz.)
$10.59
$8.79
$8.72
Prilosec OTC
(42 ct.)
$24.99
$22.99
$22.99
Abreva Cold Sore Treatment
(.07 oz.)
$18.99
$18.99
$22.89
Rogaine Men’s Foam
(3 mos.)
$47.99
$47.99
$81.87
Afrin Original Nasal Spray
(.5 oz.)
$5.49
$7.49
$7.38
Flonase Allergy Relief
(.34 oz./ 60 sprays)
$16.99
$14.99
$14.96
Delsym Cough Suppressant
(5 oz.)
$15.99
$13.59
$14.91
Claritin Non-Drowsy Indoor/Outdoor Allergies
(10 ct.)
$10.99
$11.29
$9.82
Cepacol Extra Strength SoreThroat Lozenges
(16 ct.)
$3.99
$3.29
$3.28
Orajel Severe Toothache and Gum Relief
(.33 oz.)
$9.49
$7.49
$7.56
Excedrin Migraine
(100 ct.)
$11.99
$11.99
$10.94
One A Day VitaCraves Women’s/Men’s
(70 ct.)
$7.99
(80 ct.)
$7.99
$7.97
Pepcid AC Original Strength
(30 ct.)
$11.99
$14.97
(60 ct.)
$8.64
Plan B One-Step Emergency Contraceptive
$49.99
$47.49
$62.58
TOTAL
$293.71
$286.79
Winner
$327.08


Personal Care/Beauty Product Prices Comparison

CVS vs. Rite Aid vs. Walgreens

  • Rite Aid was the clear winner among the drugstores, with a total of $166.12.
  • Walgreens' total was about $17 more, at $183.09.
  • CVS's total was the highest by far, at $214.91.


Product
CVS
Rite Aid
Walgreens
Tampax Pearl
(super, 36 ct.)
$10.29
$7.39
$9.99
Secret Clinical Strength Solid
(1.6 oz.)
$9.79
$7.99
$9.79
Skintimate Shaving Cream
(7 oz.)
$3.99
$2.99
$3.49
Gillette Venus Tropical Disposable Razor
(3 ct.)
$10.49
$6.99
$9.29
Listerine Cool Mint
(16.9 oz.)
$5.59
$4.19
$4.19
Eucerin Original Healing Body Lotion
(16.9 oz.)
$12.99
$9.99
$11.49
Head & Shoulders Classic Clean
(13.5 oz.)
$7.49
$6.29
$5.99
Clairol Nice n’ Easy Hair Color
$7.99
$6.99
$6.99
Softsoap Antibacterial Soap
(11.25 oz.)
$3.19
$2.29
$2.99
Revlon ColorStay Overtime Lip Color
$13.49
$8.49
$7.29
CoverGirl Full Lash Bloom Mascara
$10.99
$9.99
$7.69
Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Moisturizer
(1.7 oz.)
$26.79
$24.90
$26.99
Always Ultra Thin Pads With Wings
(46 ct.)
$10.99
$7.69
$7.49
Sensodyne Pronamel Toothpaste
(4 oz.)
$8.49
$5.99
$6.47
Depend Fit-Flex
(women’s small, 19 ct.)
$16.79
$14.19
$14.99
Band-Aids Flexible Fabric
(100 ct.)
$11.29
$6.99
$7.99
Chapstick
(cherry or original, 3 ct.)
$4.99
$3.79
$3.49
Mederma Advanced Scar Treatment
(0.7 oz.)
$27.79
$19.99
$24.99
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer
Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 70
(3 fl. oz.)
$11.49
$8.99
$11.49
TOTAL
$214.91
$166.12
Winner
$183.09



Personal Care/Beauty Product Prices: Kroger vs. Target vs. Walmart

  • Walmart was the overall winner, with a total of $155.38.
  • Target's total was only $1.58 more, at $156.96.
  • Kroger's total was the highest, at $169.61.


Product
Kroger
Target
Walmart
Tampax Pearl
(super, 36 ct.)
$7.44
$7.39
$7.44
Secret Clinical Strength Solid
(1.6 oz.)
$8.49
$7.99
$7.97
Skintimate Shaving Cream
(7 oz.)
$3.29
$2.99
$3.42
Gillette Venus Tropical Disposable Razor
(3 ct.)
$7.49
$6.99
$6.98
Listerine Cool Mint
(16.9 oz.)
$4.49
$4.19
$3.98
Eucerin Original Healing Body Lotion
(16.9 oz.)
$9.54
$8.99
$9.12
Head & Shoulders Classic Clean
(13.5 oz.)
$5.99
$5.99
$5.84
Clairol Nice n’ Easy Hair Color
$7.29
$5.99
$6.92
Softsoap Antibacterial Soap
(11.25 oz.)
$2.49
$1.99
$2.48
Revlon ColorStay Overtime Lip Color
$11.49
$8.49
$7.98
CoverGirl Full Lash Bloom Mascara
$8.99
$7.99
$6.20
Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Moisturizer
(1.7 oz.)
$23.99
$23.49
$22.15
Always Ultra Thin Pads With Wings
(46 ct.)
$7.99
$9.74
$8.85
Sensodyne Pronamel Toothpaste
(4 oz.)
$6.49
$6.49
$6.42
Depend Fit-Flex
(women’s small, 19 ct.)
$12.99
$12.99
$11.97
Band-Aids Flexible Fabric
(100 ct.)
$7.49
$6.99
$6.96
Chapstick
(cherry or original, 3 ct.)
$3.49
$3.29
$3.23
Mederma Advanced Scar Treatment
(0.7 oz.)
$19.19
$14.99
$14.78
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer
Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 70
(3 fl. oz.)
$10.99
$9.99
$12.69
TOTAL
$169.61
$156.96
$155.38
Winner


Comparing Pharmacies: Savings, Rewards, Selection, and More

We surveyed prices on more than 300 items: 13 common generic prescription drugs, 19 common over-the-counter drugs and vitamins, nine immunizations, and 19 personal care and beauty products at each of the six pharmacy stores in our comparison. All store locations were in the same western Ohio market area. Of course, there’s more than pricing to consider when deciding among nearby pharmacies. We also took into account selection, convenience, customer service, and other reasons that even the most frugal consumer might choose one of the more expensive pharmacies.


Industrial Building Target Retail Store Pharmacy and Brick WallPhoto credit: ivanastar/istockphoto
Although some of the factors we assessed may vary from location to location, and even visit to visit, we consistently found that the stand-alone pharmacies charged more for everyday health and personal care products and services than the big-box stores. For cost-conscious yet time-pressed consumers who like the idea of shopping for groceries and getting a flu shot or filling a prescription in one stop, this finding is significant. At the same time, drugstores like Walgreens and Rite Aid offer a wider selection of the products within their niche, and rewards programs and store-brand products help narrow the price gap. 


This comparison does not include two types of retailers that may offer considerable savings on prescription medication: independent pharmacies, where prices vary widely, and warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club. Membership clubs are required by law in many states to fill prescriptions for non-members, but consumers must pay to join if they want to purchase other merchandise, including several items in our comparison, or participate in Costco's prescription discount program. The membership fees are worthwhile for many consumers, but not all.


Prescription Drugs

Dedicated drugstores are often the default choice for filling prescriptions but often don't have the cheapest prescription drug prices. We totaled up the cost of 13 generic medications commonly substituted for pricier name-brand drugs like Lipitor, Plavix, and Zoloft. The winner was CVS, which also operates pharmacies inside Target stores. However, most of the medications on our list were cheapest at Walmart, which came in a very close second overall. Filling the entire list of prescriptions was most expensive at Walgreens, which charged more than twice as much as CVS/Target or Walmart.


Note that the prescription drug prices in our comparison reflect out-of-pocket costs to fill prescriptions without insurance — otherwise the prescription prices would depend on the customer’s insurance plan, not the pharmacy. (All the stores we visited accept "most health insurance.") Pharmacy prices we obtained also don't reflect discounts from prescription savings programs, which can bring down prices for customers paying for medications without insurance.


Rite Aid, Los AngelesPhoto credit: Craig Y./Yelp
For example, Walgreens' Prescription Savings Club, which costs $20 a year for an individual and $35 for a family, shows a price of $15 for a one-month supply of clopidogrel (generic Plavix) compared with $114.09 for shoppers paying cash without a membership. Kroger has a similar discount program, the Kroger Rx Savings Club, that costs $36 a year ($72 for a family). It offers deep savings on nearly every drug on our list and even brings the price for several down to $0. Walmart has a robust list of $4 generics automatically offered to any customer paying out of pocket — no health insurance or prescription discount card required. CVS ExtraCare and Rite Aid Rewards members are not privy to direct discounts, but purchasing prescriptions earns rewards points toward discounts on in-store purchases.


Amazon has a prescription savings benefit included with Prime membership that's accepted at more than 50,000 pharmacies nationwide, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Kroger. Members can show a digital Prime prescription savings card for a discount. Amazon also has its own online pharmacy where customers can order prescription drugs for home delivery, with free two-day shipping for Prime members. However, none of the medications on our list were cheaper from Amazon Pharmacy than from a bricks-and-mortar store, and Amazon was most expensive for four out of the 13, sometimes by a substantial margin. The total cost was lower through Amazon Pharmacy than at Walgreens or Rite Aid, but CVS/Target, Walmart, and Kroger undercut Amazon by more than $400.


Prescription Drug Prices: Amazon


Generic Medication
Amazon Pharmacy
Cheapest Competitor
Azithromycin (Zithromax)
250 mg, 5 days
$20.95
$14.49
Kroger
Atorvastatin Calcium (Lipitor)
10 mg
$144.60
$15
Walmart
Lisinopril (Prinivil)
10 mg
$18.30
$4
Walmart
Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
15 mg
$258.30
$57.99
Kroger
Metformin (Glucophage)
500 mg
$15
$4
Walmart
Zolpidem (Ambien)
5 mg
$21.00
$11.99
Rite Aid
Sertraline (Zoloft)
25 mg
$17.10
$9
Walmart
Finasteride (Propecia)
1 mg
$110.40
$44.99
Kroger
Clopidogrel (Plavix)
75 mg
$175.80
$15
Walmart
Celecoxib (Celebrex)
200 mg
$97.20
$56.30
CVS/Target
Amlodipine Besylate (Norvasc)
5 mg
$33.90
$9
Walmart
Losartan Potassium (Cozaar)
50 mg
$23.70
$9
Walmart
NuvaRing single
$165.14
$70.25
CVS/Target
TOTAL
$1,101.39

It’s worth mentioning that several pharmacy employees at the drugstore chains we visited pointed us toward GoodRx as a great place to shop around online and find the best prescription drug prices. GoodRx shows a list of the lowest possible deals available at local pharmacies and provides coupons that can be used in-store to claim those savings. A quick search for the generic medications on our list revealed that we could bring the full price at Kroger down to $158.02 (77% cheaper) by signing up for a free GoodRx prescription discount card. The total would be even less for consumers willing to shop multiple nearby pharmacies, or those with a warehouse club membership. Online pharmacy Blink Health also earns positive feedback from business and industry insiders for its low generic prescription drug prices and price match guarantee. Users can have medications shipped to their home, or have Blink fill prescriptions through participating local pharmacies.


Vaccines

Sometimes it’s simpler, and potentially cheaper, to take care of basic wellness needs, such as routine eye exams, health screenings, or vaccinations, at the local pharmacy rather than make an appointment with your primary care provider. While insurance may cover some or all of the cost of many health-care services — particularly those considered preventive care — it definitely pays to compare prices if you’re paying out of pocket.


Walmart Pharmacy, Torrance, CAPhoto credit: Walmart Pharmacy/Yelp
We looked at per-dose pricing for nine vaccines commonly available at pharmacies or in-store clinics, including flu shots. Walgreens recorded the lowest total but not the lowest price for any one vaccine. Walmart had the cheapest prices for several vaccines, and only a high price for the pneumococcal vaccine kept CVS/Target from being the overall winner. Rite Aid was the most expensive choice in our comparison.


Over-the-Counter Medications and Vitamins

To compare prices on common over-the-counter medications and vitamins, we looked at 19 items, including brand-name favorites such as Advil, Claritin, Prilosec OTC, and Abreva. Although the final total was cheapest at Target, Walmart had the lowest prices on 11 of the 19 items. Much of the overall price difference was due to a single item, Rogaine Men's Foam, which cost $81.87 at Walmart vs. $44.99 to $56.99 at the other stores. Walmart also charged about 25% more for the Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive. Not a single item was cheapest at CVS or Walgreens.


Personal Care and Beauty Products

Walgreens, San FranciscoPhoto credit: Nicholas G./Yelp
For personal care and beauty products, Target and Walmart were much cheaper than the other stores. CVS was priciest by a landslide, charging almost 40% more for the entire list of 19 items than Target, the cheapest option. Again, price differences on individual products could be substantial: between $14.78 at Walmart and $27.79 at CVS for a tiny tube of Mederma scar treatment, for example.


Store Brands

All six retailers sell generic versions of several items on our list. These in-house brands are consistently cheaper than the name-brand equivalents at the same store — and generic substitutions are more prevalent at stand-alone pharmacies. For instance, instead of buying a 24-count pack of DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu at Rite Aid for $12.99, you could buy a Rite Aid version for $5.99.


Rewards Programs

While big-box and grocery pharmacy departments boast low everyday prices, sales and discounts from loyalty cards play a bigger role at stand-alone pharmacies. We didn't include sale prices in our analysis, because there's no guarantee a product will be available at a discount at any given time, but these programs can provide significant savings and benefits for shoppers.


For instance, using a CVS savings card the day we surveyed prices would have dropped the price of DayQuil from $14.79 to $9.99, and spending $20 on a variety of household, personal, grocery, baby, or cold care products would have earned $5 in rewards points toward a subsequent purchase. Several items on our list were also eligible for a buy-one-get-one-50%-off promotion. Walgreens' Balance Rewards card gives customers access to similar deals. One example: buy one, get one free Gillette disposable razor, plus 4,000 rewards points (equivalent to $4) with the purchase of four. There was an additional $3-off coupon available to card members online that could be redeemed in-store. CVS also has a CarePass subscription membership program that offers free shipping on online purchases, free prescription delivery, 20% off CVS Health brand products, and 24-hour access to a pharmacist helpline, among other perks, for $5 a month ($48 per year).


Kroger Pharmacy, Louisville, KYPhoto credit: Dennis R./Yelp
Rite Aid Rewards customers can access card-only sales and earn rewards points toward BonusCash, a discount coupon for a future purchase. Members also earn points for prescription pickups and immunizations. A Rewards 65+ savings card extends special benefits to seniors, including five times the points on eligible purchases the first Wednesday of every month.


Savings cards aren't solely the domain of drugstores. Kroger shoppers with Kroger Plus cards can also reap discounts and earn fuel rewards points that convert to money off fill-ups at Kroger or Shell gas stations. And while Target discontinued its pharmacy rewards program when CVS took over its pharmacies, customers with ExtraCare cards can still earn rewards points and receive $5 Target coupons for every 10 prescriptions filled (as long as one was filled at a CVS pharmacy within a Target store).


Selection

It may come as no surprise that drugstores generally carry a better selection of pharmacy and personal care products than mass merchants, especially when it comes to store brands. Of course, inventory varies from store to store within each chain, but among the retailers in our comparison, CVS boasted the largest selection. The store we visited dedicated one entire side of an aisle to shampoo and conditioner, plus half an aisle to specialty/salon brands. The number of specialty hair-care products alone was equivalent to the entire selection at Kroger, Target, or Walmart. Pickings were slimmer at Rite Aid than the other drugstores, namely in beauty and personal care. While CVS offered dozens of options in women's disposable razors, for instance, Rite Aid had only a few.


Convenience

Many shoppers will choose a store that's closer to home over one that is cheaper, particularly if they need only a few items. And there's no denying the appeal of value-added services or one-stop shopping.


CVS Pharmacy, HoustonPhoto credit: Karina T./Yelp
CVS is the largest pharmacy chain in the nation, with about 9,900 locations, although it plans to close about 10% of its stores in the next three years. As for in-store walk-in health clinics, CVS far outpaces the rest, with more than 1,100 MinuteClinics nationwide offering basic health services. CVS has also established new HealthHub locations with expanded services (blood draws are on the list).


Walgreens is a close second overall, with roughly 8,900 locations but only about 400 clinics. Rite Aid is a distant third, with fewer than 2,500 stores, and scarcely registers on the health-clinic scale, lately touting telehealth in lieu of in-person service.


All the pharmacies we visited offered conveniences such as automatic prescription refills, text/phone/email reminders, home delivery, and online or app prescription management. Drive-thru or curbside prescription pickup has become another common perk and was a feature at every chain in our comparison.


Pharmacy-related benefits are similar everywhere we looked, but other services and types of merchandise vary in availability and convenience. At the drugstores, photo services, movie rental machines, ATMs, and a small selection of grocery items are available. Still, drugstore chains don't offer the sheer range of products to be found at Kroger, Walmart, and Target. The mass merchants are one-stop shops.


Customer Service

One disadvantage of turning to a mass-merchant or grocery-store pharmacy is that the closest employee available to assist you isn't necessarily assigned to the pharmacy. At Walmart, for example, we had trouble locating an item, and the first employee we spotted worked in another department. She was kind enough to locate a pharmacy employee, but that extra step took valuable time. During our visits to stand-alone pharmacies, we were approached almost immediately upon entering. But at Kroger, Target, and Walmart we had to seek out assistance, and the only pharmacy employees we saw were behind the counter. Although easy to spot, they were less accessible than those at the drugstores.


Walgreens, ChicagoPhoto credit: Phil S./Yelp
In a recent survey of customer satisfaction by J.D. Power, however, CVS pharmacies inside Target stores scored highest among the chains in our comparison (and finished second only to Sam’s Club among mass merchandisers). Stand-alone CVS stores fared the worst, and Walmart and Kroger scored slightly below average. Rite Aid ranked highest among the dedicated drugstores in our comparison, behind two networks of independent pharmacies, Good Neighbor Pharmacy and Health Mart. Rite Aid’s high ranking was slightly unexpected, given its high prices. The dominance of the independent pharmacies, however, was not surprising: In-depth and personalized service underpins their popularity. Consumer Reports found the same when surveying shoppers.


Return Policies

Most stores note that they cannot accept the return of prescription medications by law. Cosmetics, over-the-counter medications, and health and beauty items may or may not be returnable. CVS, for instance, notes that it may deny refunds or exchanges for items that are opened, while Walgreens says the return of cosmetics is up to the store manager’s discretion. Target’s return policy specifically states that it will accept the return of most opened beauty items.


Rite Aid offers customers 90 days to make “hassle-free returns,” while CVS has a 60-day window. Walgreens is by far the stingiest of the three drugstore chains, offering just 30 days. Kroger stores also have a 30-day return window. Target and Walmart both offer 90 days, and Target extends that to 120 days for Target REDcard shoppers and up to a year for all Target-brand products. Among the exceptions in Walmart's return policy: Customers have 60 days, with a receipt, to get a refund or exchange for prescription glasses, contacts, or hearing aids.




CVS Pharmacy Review

CVSPhoto credit: tupungato/istockphoto


Pros:

  • Lowest total price for generic prescription drugs and second-lowest for vaccines in our survey.
  • Close to 10,000 locations in 49 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (although hundreds of closures planned).
  • More than 1,100 in-store MinuteClinics, a quick alternative to the family doctor for physicals, immunizations, and minor illnesses.
  • Substantial savings and many opportunities to earn rewards points with a CVS membership card.
  • Wide range of (cheaper) store-brand items.
  • Larger selection of specialty pharmacy items than big-box competitors.


Cons:

  • Highest prices for over-the-counter medications and personal care/beauty items.
  • Cheapest for only two prescriptions: generic Celebrex and NuvaRing birth control.
  • Lowest customer satisfaction among chain drugstores in the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Study.


Takeaway: Among the stores in our price survey, CVS was the least expensive option for generic prescription drugs overall. But this was due entirely to only two prescriptions: celecoxib (generic Celebrex) and NuvaRing, which cost more than twice as much elsewhere. Walmart's total was only a few dollars more, and it was the cheapest source for most of the drugs on our list. Savvy shoppers can save more at CVS with an ExtraCare card and by choosing store brands. Given the sheer number of CVS pharmacies, you'll rarely have to go out of your way, and the chain offers many convenient in-store health clinics.



Kroger Pharmacy Review

Kroger Supermarket, IndianapolisPhoto credit: jetcityimage/istockphoto


Pros:

  • Popular fuel program awards pharmacy customers points that convert to savings at the gas station.
  • Customers can grocery shop while waiting for prescriptions to be filled.
  • Robust prescription-discount program covers a wide range of drugs and potentially offers big savings for customers who fill a lot of prescriptions.


Cons:

  • Generally higher prices than big-box stores across the board.
  • Limited selection of common over-the-counter drugs and personal care/beauty items compared with competitors.
  • Below-average rating among supermarket pharmacies in J.D. Power's 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Satisfaction Study.


Takeaway: Whether we were comparing prices on generic prescription drugs, vaccines, over-the-counter medications, or personal-care/beauty products, Kroger's prices were middling. The supermarket was almost never the most expensive store. It had the cheapest prices for three prescriptions — azithromycin (Zithromax), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and finasteride (Propecia) — as well as a couple of OTC remedies: Abreva cold sore treatment and Afrin Original nasal spray. Also, filling prescriptions during a grocery-shopping trip is undeniably convenient.



Walmart Pharmacy Review

WalmartPhoto credit: Sundry Photography/istockphoto


Pros:

  • Lowest prices for most of the prescription drugs in our survey. 
  • Lowest total for the personal care/beauty products on our list.
  • Many common generic prescription drugs cost just $4 for a 30-day supply.
  • Wide range of merchandise allows for convenient one-stop shopping.


Cons:

  • Size and scope of stores can make for very busy pharmacies and limited customer service.
  • Limited selection of some common over-the-counter drugs and personal care/beauty items compared with competitors.
  • Few locations offer conveniences such as in-store health clinics.
  • Lower-than-average customer satisfaction in the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Study.


Takeaway: Walmart's reputation for low prices is reinforced at its pharmacies. Shoppers may have to trade a bit of customer service and selection to pay bottom dollar, but it's hard to beat Walmart's long list of $4 generic drugs. Convenience is a factor too — you can shop for just about anything else you need while you wait.



Walgreens Pharmacy Review

Walgreens PharmacyPhoto credit: patty_c/istockphoto


Pros:

  • Lowest total for vaccines, although not the cheapest place to get any one vaccine.
  • Nearly 9,000 locations across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Comprehensive prescription savings program offers substantial discounts on common medications without insurance.
  • Larger selection of specialty pharmacy items than big-box stores, including a wide range of (cheaper) store-brand items.

Cons:

  • Highest prices on prescription drugs in our survey.
  • Fewer in-store clinics than its closest competitor, CVS.
  • 30-day return window.


Takeaway: Walgreens charged more than twice as much as rival CVS for the prescription drugs on our list, a difference of about $690. It's almost as easy to find as CVS, however, and customers appreciate the wide selection and cheap store-brand options, as well as Walgreens' prescription savings and rewards points programs. Walgreens also ranks slightly above average among chain drugstores in the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Satisfaction Study.



Target Pharmacy Review

Target PharmacyPhoto credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images


Pros:

  • Cheapest prices overall on prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
  • Second-cheapest prices overall on vaccines and personal care/beauty items.
  • Range of household goods and groceries allows for convenient one-stop shopping.
  • Now that CVS Pharmacy has acquired Target pharmacies, behind-the-counter pharmacy purchases with a CVS rewards card earn points toward Target coupons.
  • Customers report better than average satisfaction with CVS pharmacies inside Target stores in the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Study.


Cons:

  • Few locations offer conveniences such as in-store health clinics.
  • Target's popular REDcard discount cannot be used on prescriptions or other items behind the pharmacy counter.


Takeaway: Now under the CVS umbrella, Target pharmacies combine low prices on prescription drugs and vaccines with the big-box store's low prices on over-the-counter and personal care/beauty items. Although it was the overall winner for prescription drugs, Target/CVS was cheapest for only two: generic Celebrex and NuvaRing birth control. Walmart had the lowest prices for most of the prescriptions in our survey and its total was within a few dollars of Target. Still, Target has its own cult following and Target/CVS pharmacies earn much higher marks for customer satisfaction.



Rite Aid Pharmacy Review

Rite Aid pharmacy entrance, Santa Clara, CAPhoto credit: Sundry Photography/istockphoto


Pros:

  • Second-cheapest overall for OTC medications/vitamins.
  • Rite Aid Rewards program with substantial discounts for loyal customers.
  • Wide range of immunizations available.
  • 90-day return window is more generous than other drugstores'.
  • Higher rating than any other chain drugstore we surveyed in the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Satisfaction Study.


Cons:

  • Most expensive overall for vaccines and second-most expensive for prescription drugs. Consistently high prices in every category except personal care/beauty.
  • Fewer locations and fewer clinics than competitors.
  • Stores we visited were dated, haphazardly organized, and not well stocked.


Takeaway: Prices at Rite Aid tended toward the more expensive, with exceptions here and there; for example, Rite Aid was the cheapest source for generic Ambien. A robust rewards program — including special deals for seniors — is another redeeming feature. The drugstore chain doesn't have nearly as many locations as its rivals but boasts higher customer satisfaction.


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