New Consumers Union survey shows community pharmacies offer not only superior service, but lower prices compared to chain competitors
December 3, 2015
Note: While we keep older reports online for reference, most readers will want to see this 2018 report on the same topic for more up-to-date information.
It probably surprises no one that independent pharmacies outperformed all chain competitors in customer service in a recent Consumers Union survey. But independents also beat major chain drugstores, supermarkets, and big box discounters on price — and by a wide margin. In fact, among all national chains, only the pay-to-shop membership club, Costco, edged out independents on price.*
Published in the January 2016 edition of Consumer Reports magazine, the Consumers Union report was based on results from “secret shoppers” who called the pharmacies of more than 200 stores for price quotes on five common generic prescription drugs.* The total averages of the price quoted (a one-month supply of each) were:
The drugs in the survey included generic versions of Actos, Cymbalta, Lipitor, Plavix and Singulair.
*Sam’s Club (a subsidiary of Walmart Inc.) and Costco are clubs requiring membership purchase to shop there. Non-members may purchase prescription drugs if they choose to visit solely for that purpose, but it’s a time-consuming affair.
And the reasons to patronize independent pharmacists go far beyond price. Consumer Reports notes, “You’re much less likely to wait at an independent pharmacy than at another type of store.” Just 4 percent of customers at independents complained of long waits compared to 21 percent of pharmacy chain customers. The Consumers Union report suggests this may be an intentional strategy by some chains to ensure customers have plenty of time to roam their aisles for other products.
According to Consumer Reports, “At least 90 percent of shoppers at independents rated their pharmacy as Excellent or Very Good in speed & accuracy, courtesy & helpfulness, and pharmacists’ knowledge. No other type of drugstore came close.”
Market Competition vs Corporate Capitalism
According to the National Community Pharmacists Association, there were 22,814 independent pharmacies in 2014, compared to 21,394 chain drug stores, 8,301 supermarkets with pharmacies and 8,330 mass merchandisers. But we’ve lost about half the community pharmacies in the country over the last 30 years.
** For those with no urgency and willing to forego personal consultations or service, Consumer Reports found lower prices at an online store (buyer beware). We did not include this option in our graph because the services provided are not comparable. The full report can be accessed here.
On other occasions in which the Consumers Union has compared independent businesses to chains in specific sectors, the results typically have indicated greater satisfaction and value with independents (though much lower prices are not the norm). See our Good News Page for further examples covering banking, appliances, electronics and more.
What would happen if a state-mandated independent ownership of pharmacies? North Dakota already does.
See Truth RX for more on the problem of corporate Pharmacy Benefit Managers like CVS/Caremark.