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Cheapism compared out-of-pocket prices at the country's largest chain drugstores.Here is what we found.

Target was acquired byCVS Pharmacy in late 2015.While prescription and immunization pricing are the same, we considered the two stores separate entities for our price comparisons of over-the-counter drugs and personal care/beauty items.

We compared prices on more than 300 items, including 13 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.The store locations were in the same area.There is more to consider when choosing a nearby pharmacy.The selection, convenience, customer service, and other reasons that even the most frugal consumer might choose one of the more expensive pharmacies were taken into account.

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 grocery and big-box stores.This finding is significant for cost-conscious consumers who like the idea of shopping for groceries and getting a flu shot at the same time.At the same time, drugstores like CVS and Walgreens offer a wider selection of the products within their niche, and rewards programs and store-brand products help narrow the price gap.

Independent pharmacies, where prices vary widely, and warehouse clubs such as Sam's Club are not included in the comparison.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.Many consumers find the membership fees worthwhile, but not all.

Walmart and Kroger were found to be the cheapest places to fill prescriptions for generic drugs like Plavix, Zoloft, and Lipitor.The pharmacy at Walmart had the cheapest prescription drug prices in our survey, but the total bill was more than double that of the drugstore.With a total of about $688 for the same drugs, Kroger also undercut the stand-alone pharmacies, charging 37% less than CVS, the least expensive of the pharmacy chains.

If you don't have health insurance, the prescription drug prices in our comparison reflect out-of-pocket costs to fill prescriptions, not the pharmacy.Most health insurance is accepted at all the stores we visited.Pharmacy prices don't reflect discounts from prescription savings programs, which can bring down prices for customers without insurance.

For example, we were told that members of Walgreens' Prescription Savings Club, which costs $20 a year for an individual and $35 a family, would pay $65 for a one-month supply of Clopidogrel (Plavix) compared with $144 for shoppers without the savings card.Kroger has a discount program called the Rx Kroger Savings Club that costs $36 a year for a family.It brings the price of several drugs down to $0 and offers deep savings on nearly every drug on our list.Walmart has a robust list of $4 generics that are automatically offered to customers with no health insurance or prescription discount card required.If you purchase a prescription at the pharmacy, you'll get rewards points that can be used for in-store purchases.

Several pharmacy employees at the drugstore chains we visited pointed us to 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 at local drugstores 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 $295.42 by signing up for a free GoodRx prescription discount card.It would be less for consumers willing to shop multiple nearby pharmacies or warehouse club members.Business and industry insiders give positive feedback to online pharmacy Blink Health for its low generic prescription drug prices and price match guarantee.Users can either have prescriptions filled at a local pharmacy or have their medication shipped to their home.

It is possible to take care of basic health needs, such as eye exams, health screenings, or vaccinations, at the local pharmacy instead of making an appointment with your primary care provider.It is important to compare prices if you are paying out of pocket for healthcare services.

We looked at the per-dose prices for nine vaccines, including flu shots.For every shot on the list, Walmart returned the cheapest price, which was about $327 less than the most expensive option, Rite Aid.A high-dose flu shot for seniors was about $10 cheaper at Kroger than at Walmart, and a shingles vaccine was less expensive at CVS.The highest and lowest immunization costs were not always the same.It was often more expensive than the cheapest pharmacy when Rite Aid had the highest price.For seniors, the high-dose flu shot from Rite Aid was $77, compared with Kroger's $60.For a dose of Prevnar 13, which can help prevent pneumonia and is recommended for adults over 50, Rite Aid charged more than lowest-priced Walmart.

Advil, Claritin, Prilosec OTC, and Abreva are brand-name favorites that we looked at to compare prices on common over-the-counter medications and vitamins.The prices at Walmart, Target, and Kroger were lower than at the drugstores.Walmart was the cheapest store in this category and it was common for stand-alone pharmacies to charge at least $2 or $3 more for any item.The price of a small bottle of Flonase Allergy Relief spray was just under 14 dollars at Walmart and Target.Kroger's price was still far below the pharmacy chains', though it was a step above the superstores'.This was always the case.

Target and Walmart were cheaper than the other stores for personal care and beauty products.Target was the cheapest option, but it cost less than the entire list of 19 items.There were significant price differences on individual products.The price for a small tube of Mederma scar treatment is between $24 and $27 at drugstores, while the same product costs about $15 at Target or Walmart.Kroger was more competitive for everyday personal care items like soap and toothpaste than it was for specialty skin care treatments like the Mederma.

Generic versions of several items are sold by all six retailers.The in-house brands are cheaper than the name-brand equivalents at the same store.If you want a cheaper version of DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu, you can buy it from Rite Aid.The store-brand versions of popular items are sometimes even cheaper at the grocery and big-box pharmacy.Walmart's DayQuil copycat is just $2.98 and it carries the Equate brand label.

While big-box and grocery pharmacy departments have lower prices overall, sales and discounts from loyalty cards are more prevalent 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.

Spending $20 on a variety of household, personal, grocery, baby, or cold care products would have earned $5 in rewards points if we had used a savings card.The items on our list were eligible for the promotion.Customers can get similar deals with Walgreens' Balance rewards card.One example is to buy one, get one free Gillette disposable razor, and get 4,000 rewards points with the purchase of four.There was an additional $3-off coupon available to card members online.CarePass is a subscription membership program that is now available nationwide.For $5 a month, users get free shipping on online purchases, free prescription delivery, and other perks.

Customers with a loyalty card can get 10% off most store items for a year and earn rewards points that can be used for gold or silver status.Customers can get additional rewards for filling prescriptions or getting immunizations.20% off non-prescription purchases on the first Wednesday of every month and a free consultation with a pharmacy are included in a savings card for seniors.

drugstores aren't the only places where savings cards can be used.Fuel rewards points can be converted to money off fill-ups at Kroger or Shell gas stations if you have a Kroger Plus card.Customers with ExtraCare cards can still earn rewards points and receive Target coupons for every 10 prescriptions filled, even though Target discontinued its pharmacy rewards program.

drugstores have a better selection of pharmacy and personal care products than mass merchants.Of course, inventory varies from store to store, but among the retailers in our comparison, CVS had the largest selection.Half of the store's aisle was dedicated to specialty/salon brands.The entire selection at Kroger, Target, or Walmart was equal to the number of specialty hair-care products.The drugstores have different pickings in beauty and personal care.There were many options in women's disposable razors, but only a few at Rite Aid.

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

The largest pharmacy chain in the nation is CVS.More than 1,100 MinuteClinics nationwide offer basic health services, and they are far ahead of the rest.Blood draws are on the list, as well as 1,500 new HealthHub locations, which will be established by 2021.

Walgreens has 9,560 locations but only 400 clinics.Walgreens recently bought close to 2,000 of its stores, up to 750 of which Walgreens says it plans to close.A limited number of RediClinics are available in just a few states, as Rite Aid has 2,500 stores and barely registers on the health-clinic scale.A new initiative in select stores would experiment with RediClinic Express kiosks, which would offer virtual care services using diagnostic testing equipment and live-video interactions with clinicians.

Automatic prescription refill, text/phone/email reminders, home delivery, and online or app prescription management are some of the conveniences that the pharmacy we visited offered.We visited every local store except Walmart and found drive-through or curbside prescription pickup to be a common perk.Although not every store, Target has expanded its Drive Up option to all 50 states.Time-pressed customers can place orders through the Target app and have employees bring the merchandise to their cars at the store.A button in the app that says "I'm on the way" pairs with location services to help speed up the process.

Pharmacy-related benefits are the same everywhere we looked, but other services and types of merchandise are different.There is a small selection of grocery items at the drugstores.drugstore chains don't offer a wide range of products to be found at Kroger, Walmart, and TargetThe mass merchants have one thing in common.

One disadvantage of going to a mass-merchant or grocery-store pharmacy is that the closest employee isn't usually assigned to the pharmacy.At Walmart, we had trouble locating an item, and the first employee we spotted worked in another department.She was able to locate a pharmacy employee, but that extra step took a lot of time.When we visited stand-alone pharmacies, we were immediately approached.We had to go to Kroger, Target, and Walmart to get assistance, but the only pharmacy employees we saw were behind the counter.They were less accessible than the drugstores.

J.D. conducted a survey of customer satisfaction.Target pharmacy scored above-average ratings among bricks-and-mortar mass-merchants, beating out only Sam's Club.Walmart was the worst.Stand-alone CVS and Walgreens scored slightly below average among chain drugstore pharmacies, while Rite Aid came in third, just behind two networks of independent pharmacies.It was somewhat surprising that Rite Aid had a high ranking.In-depth and personalized service is what underpins the popularity of the independent pharmacy.When surveying shoppers, Consumer Reports found the same thing.

Most stores can't accept the return of prescription drugs.Health and beauty items may or may not be returned.Walgreens says the return of cosmetics is up to the store manager, while CVS says it may deny refunds or exchanges for items that are opened.Target will accept the return of most opened beauty items.

The 90-day window for making a hassle-free return is offered by Rite Aid.The stingiest of the drugstore chains is Walgreens, which offers just 30 days.Target extends the 90 day window to 120 days for Target REDcard shoppers and up to a year for all Target brand products.

Kroger has a vague return policy with no official return window and no mention of any of the exclusions.A Kroger associate said that stores have wide latitude over when to accept returns.

Walmart's reputation for low prices is reinforced at its pharmacy.Walmart has a long list of $4 generic drugs and it's hard to beat them.You can shop for anything you need while you wait.

Other benefits could help balance out higher prices, even though it is one of the more expensive options.Shoppers can save money by using an ExtraCare card.The chain has many convenient in-store health clinics, and you'll rarely have to go out of your way.

Kroger can't match the prices of its big-box-store competitors when it comes to over-the-counter medications and personal-care/beauty products.The second-lowest prices in our survey of generic prescription drugs and vaccinations were offered by it.It's convenient to fill prescriptions during a grocery shopping trip.

Target drugstores are a mix of good and bad.Customers pay Target's low prices on over-the-counter and personal care/beauty items outside of the pharmacy, but they're stuck with higher prices behind the counter for prescription drugs.Target has a cult following and earns higher marks for customer satisfaction than Walmart.

Walgreens makes up for its higher prices in convenience, as well as prescription savings and rewards points programs.Although the brand will be closing a number of stores, locations are still ubiquitous and customers appreciate the wide selection and cheap store-brand options.Walgreens has reasonable prices on over-the-counter medications, personal care and beauty items.

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