The leading discount chains are edging out the leading drug store chains when it comes to pricing on over-the-counter medicines, according to Consumer Reports.

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Consumer Reports: Discounters top drug stores on OTC prices

April 12th, 2013

YONKERS, N.Y. – The leading discount chains are edging out the leading drug store chains when it comes to pricing on over-the-counter medicines, according to Consumer Reports.

The consumer advocacy organization said the May 2013 issue of its ShopSmart publication includes findings from a "secret shopper" price scan of 185 OTC medications at hundreds of retail pharmacy stores nationwide.

In comparing prices of common name- and store-brand nonprescription medicines at CVS/pharmacy, Walgreens, Target, Walmart and supermarkets, the secret shoppers found that Target and Walmart offered lower prices than the drug chains every time, Consumer Reports said.

Walmart had the lowest prices on 26 items — the most of any of the retailers — while Target offered the largest savings on a single item: its store-brand ibuprofen (24-count), which cost 73% less than the store-brand item at Walgreens, the price check found.

"If you're still buying drugs at drug stores you're missing out on a major way to save," ShopSmart editor in chief Lisa Lee Freeman stated. "Our price scans on many different products — including food and beauty items, and now medications — show that by simply shopping at Walmart and Target you can cut your costs by hundreds of dollars a year."

Still, drug chains have upped the competitive ante through their customer loyalty programs.

ShopSmart noted that although chain drug stores almost always had the highest regular price on nonprescription drugs, consumers who join a loyalty program at one of the leading chains — Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid — can uncover deals.

For example, ShopMart said that members of CVS' ExtraCare program can earn 2% back on almost all nonprescription purchases in stores and online, as well as get extra rewards for buying select items each week. More rewards can be earned by enrolling in special beauty, diabetes and pharmacy programs. Rewards include instant savings on featured items and ExtraBucks cash-back coupons for future purchases.

Rite Aid's wellness+ program awards customer one point for each dollar spent on eligible nonprescription items in stores and 25 points for each prescription. Members can earn instant savings on featured items; +UP Rewards to redeem on future purchases; and rewards such as fitness memberships, magazine subscriptions and health screenings upon reaching 500 points. An adjunct program, wellness+ for diabetes, also provides exclusive member benefits, ShopSmart noted.

The Balance Rewards program from Walgreens enables members to earn points for buying select items in stores and online (for instance, 250 points for toothpaste and 3,000 for laundry detergent) as well as 500 points for prescriptions and immunizations. Shoppers get instant savings on featured items. Those amassing 5,000 points get $5 to spend on a future purchase, and members reaching other point levels can get up to $50, ShopSmart said. Members, too, can earn 10 points for each mile in the Walk With Walgreens fitness program plus receive bonus points by linking an AARP membership to a Balance Rewards account.