Which Drugstore Chain Is Most Likely to Overcharge You?

Shoppers understand that prices for the same items can vary quite a bit among competing retailers. A new study shows that shoppers shouldn’t expect consistent pricing among stores with the same name — even if they’re located just a few blocks apart.
One of the biggest appeals of a chain store is that there’s some consistency with the brand — no matter the location, every store with the same name and logo has essentially the same products, prices and services. A certain level of comfort and familiarity comes with shopping at a trusted chain retailer.
But a new study from the National Consumers League demonstrates that it’s unwise to let your guard down while hitting the aisles of your local chain drugstore. Researchers conducted price checks on 25 standard drugstore products — Huggies diapers, Tropicana orange juice, Folgers coffee, a bottle of Claritin allergy tablets — at 485 CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens locations across the U.S. The results could be disturbing to anyone who hates overpaying.
While the study found inconsistent pricing among all three chains, Walgreens came out looking the worst by far. “Walgreens stores in a single market were up to five times more likely than a competitor to charge different prices for the same item,” the report states. What’s more, “Walgreens had more than eight times the number of products with a 20% or greater price range than CVS. Rite Aid had no products with that big of a gap. Walgreens also had more than twice the number of products with a price range over $1 than both competitors.”
Walgreens’ fancy flagship stores, which might offer sushi, smoothies, wine and manicures in addition to the usual selections of cold medicine and shampoo, were found to be particularly more expensive than other nearby locations. The total price for the basket of 25 items at New York City’s flagship Walgreens was $38 more (20% higher) than what the same items cost at other Walgreens locations in the city.
In a statement released to CNN Money, Walgreens spokesman Jim Graham confirmed that prices among locations are not consistent. In fact, variable pricing is part of the business model. “Costs can vary from one location to another, even when they are a few blocks apart in dense urban areas, based on the store’s cost of real estate, its hours of operation, including whether it is open 24 hours, labor costs and the number of customers it serves each day, among other factors,” the statement reads.
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