Mom and Pops Are Tops

Published October, 2003

Mom and Pops Are Tops. So said Consumer Reports magazine after researching prices at 130 pharmacies and surveying 32,000 readers about their experiences at thousands of drugstores. Independent pharmacies provide the best overall value, including better service and lower prices than the major drug chains, beating them by what Consumer Reports called “an eye-popping margin.”

The survey included independent, chain and online drugstores, as well as pharmacies within supermarkets and mass merchants such as Target and Wal-Mart.

Notable results from the survey include:

  • Drug and supermarket chains were far more likely to be out of a particular medication than independents and took longer to get out-of-stock medications. If independent pharmacies were out of stock, they were able to get the product within one day 80% of the time. Other types of pharmacies were able to restock within a day 55-60% of the time.
  • The one chain that nearly equaled the ratings of independent stores was the Medicine Shoppe. Notably, this company differs from other chains in that its approximately 1000 outlets are independently-owned, not corporate-run outlets.
  • At the top-rated supermarket pharmacy, Publix, most workers are stockholders.
  • Drug chains charged the highest prices for prescription drugs, online vendors and mass merchants the lowest. (But CR warns that “online pharmacies not affiliated with stores can be risky.”)
  • Supermarket pharmacies beat drug chains in overall satisfaction. Even most mass merchants out-performed drugstore chains other than the Medicine Shoppe. Only Wal-Mart — the worst-rated mass merchant in the survey for overall value — failed to beat the satisfaction scores of most drug chains.

The article also notes the trend of independent drugstores making a comeback after a long downward trend. Apparently more people are seeing through the corporate hype and recognizing the superior value that local, independently-owned businesses of all types usually offer.

In 2002, the Maine Department of Human Services researched the prices of 15 common prescription drugs at 106 independent and chain pharmacies statewide. The 10 lowest-priced pharmacies (based on the combined cost of all drugs) all were locally-owned drugstores. Results from a similar 2003 survey will be published by November of 2003.

Studies by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and a statewide study in New York by Senior Action Council also have affirmed lower pricing of drugs at independent pharmacies.

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