Photo credit: Courtesy of Cheapism

CVS was the cheapest of the stand-alone pharmacies in our price comparisons of drugstore items and prescriptions. Overall it takes the cake for selection, offering a wealth of cheap store-brand items, and leads competitors by a mile with more than 900 health clinics.

From razors to shampoo, CVS carries a selection of store-brand and brand-name health, beauty, and personal-care products that is hard to beat. While the prices are generally higher than shoppers will find at big-box stores, the inventory, customer service, convenience, and rewards program have won many loyal customers. Shoppers who frequent the drugstore chain look for sale items that earn them CVS ExtraBucks. These rewards can be used toward future purchases and often can be combined with manufacturer coupons.

In our comparisons of three stand-alone drugstores, two big-box superstores, and one supermarket pharmacy, non-sale prices at CVS were middling overall. Still, the totals for five prescription drugs and a shopping cart of eight name-brand products were lowest among the stand-alone drugstores we researched. When we chose cheaper store-brand versions of the products on our list (where available), CVS jumped from fourth to third overall.

We tried our hand at an automatic coupon machine with a CVS ExtraCare rewards card and scored a generous coupon (although we did not factor that into our price comparison). Services such as Redbox movie-rental machines, photo services, and drive-thru pharmacies help make CVS a convenient stop for drugstore items. CVS also maintains more than twice as many health clinics as its next-closest competitor. More than 900 CVS MinuteClinics reside in 30 states. Common immunizations available at walk-in clinics were most expensive at CVS, however.

The CVS store we explored in central Ohio was welcoming, well-lit, and easy to navigate. The aisles were clearly marked with signs that stood out above the short stacks of shelves, which helped us quickly find the eight items we were looking for. We were greeted upon arrival with a smile and an inquiry about whether we needed help finding something on our shopping list. We encountered more than one employee during our stay who made our visit more pleasant and efficient. Other customers don't seem to have had such positive experiences. CVS scored below average in customer satisfaction among drugstore chains in J.D. Power's 2014 U.S. Pharmacy Survey.

Overall CVS is a strong competitor. It tends to beat other stand-alone drugstores on price, and big-box and supermarket challengers can't match the product selection or the convenience of this chain's many drugstore and health clinic locations.

Emily Lugg

Emily Lugg is a freelance writer and writing tutor in the Writing Center at Ohio Wesleyan University. Always looking for the best investment for her family at the cheapest price, Emily uses research and consumer reviews as her sharpest tools for the savviest shopping.

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