We shopped at CVS and Rite Aid to see which was a better drugstore, and one had a clear advantage over the other

Business Insider/Jessica TylerCVS was very disorganized compared with Rite Aid, but they both offered a lot of great deals.

  • CVS and Rite Aid are drugstore chains that sell items as varied as groceries and greeting cards.
  • Both CVS and Rite Aid have pharmacies that offer services like flu shots.
  • They also each have a rewards program that can earn shoppers major discounts.
  • When we visited neighbouring locations of CVS and Rite Aid in Westchester, New York, we found that the stores had very different atmospheres, and each offered a unique shopping experience.

CVS and Rite Aid are pretty much everywhere you go. Some towns – like Westchester, New York – have both stores just minutes down the road from each other.

CVS and Rite Aid carry items as varied as groceries, cosmetics, household supplies, and greeting cards. Each store has a pharmacy, and both have rewards cards that offer serious savings.

CVS operates 8,000 to 10,000 stores in the United States, while Rite Aid has about 2,500.

When we visited locations of the two stores in Westchester, atmosphere was one of the most notable differences between them. The CVS we visited was dark and messy. There were dark grey carpeted floors, empty soda cans, old shopping lists, and no shortage of empty shelves. Security TVs loomed over every aisle, and it was eerily quiet.

Rite Aid wasn’t quite as unwelcoming – it was mostly clean, but there were bins and shopping carts everywhere and a lot of empty shelves. It was also very quiet, but it was a more pleasant place to be in.

Even though Rite Aid had a nicer environment to shop in, CVS, which is merging with Aetna, saw same-store sales increase by 1.6% in the most recent quarter, while Rite Aid saw same-store sales decrease by 0.7% in its most recent quarter.

Here’s what it was like to shop at each store:


First up was CVS.


The cosmetics section was right near the entrance. The store carried typical drugstore brands like Maybelline, L’Oreal, and CoverGirl, and prices typically ranged from $US8 to $US20.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The cosmetics department didn’t leave the best first impression of the store. Many shelves were half empty or falling apart.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Farther down the cosmetics aisle, I found the hair-accessories section. It was a mess — hairbands were tangled up, products were falling off the shelves, and there was even an empty soda can left behind.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Abandoned shopping lists sat on the empty shelves.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

At the end of the aisle, a few shelves of jewellery were on display. Most pieces cost under $US10 and were similar to what you might find at a store like Claire’s.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There was a small aisle of greeting cards and candles …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… an assortment of office supplies …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… and tons of random products throughout the store. In one aisle there were “as seen on TV” products, picture frames, toys, and candy.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

One aisle over from the candy carried nearly every vitamin, cold medicine, and supplement imaginable. It looked as though every single product carried a deal for members. It was hard to see the regular price because of how many bright yellow tags were offering special rewards-member-only deals, a trend throughout the store.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler
The CVS ExtraCare program offers shoppers things like members-only pricing and 2% back in ExtraBucks rewards points, which add up to additional perks and discounts each time you shop.


The pharmacy in the back of the store was visible from the grocery aisle. There was no waiting area, and people were wandering around, waiting for a pharmacist to be available to help them.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Near the grocery aisle was a refrigerated-foods aisle carrying drinks like milk, orange juice, and soda. The prices were on par with any other gas station or convenience store — for example, water bottles cost $US1 to $US3.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Beach chairs sat atop the refrigerators. Cleaning supplies, pet food, sodas, and home-repair tools were all squeezed into one corner of the store. All in all, it felt pretty disorganized.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

By the register were candy and gum packages, most of which cost under $US2. Even here, there were empty shelves and plenty of special deals for rewards members.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

No one was at the register, and there were no employees in sight. Overall, the store was dark and had several empty shelves. There were a lot of great deals offered to ExtraCare cardholders, but it wasn’t a nice place to shop.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Just down the road from CVS was a Rite Aid Pharmacy.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Cosmetics were immediately to the right of the entrance. Like CVS, it carried brands like Maybelline, L’Oreal, and CoverGirl for $US6 to $US20 a product. Most products in this section and throughout the store had a yellow tag with a special promotion for Wellness Plus rewards members.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler
Rite Aid’s Wellness Plus rewards program allows shoppers to earn points on every purchase, which can then be used for savings later on. Almost every product had a rewards-member-only lower price.


The shelves were well-stocked and organised, but scattered shopping carts and bins blocked the aisles.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

This wasn’t limited to the cosmetics section — big blue bins were left throughout the store.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The jewellery was around the corner from the cosmetics section. It sold similar necklaces, bracelets, and earrings to CVS, and almost everything cost under $US10.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There were two aisles carrying greeting cards and gift-wrapping supplies …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… and office supplies had their own aisle as well.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The store also sold books and magazines …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… and had a big “as seen on TV” section.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Rite Aid also carried toys, but the selection was underwhelming.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Groceries were toward the front of the store. The prices were on par with those at CVS. For example, gallons of milk cost $US2.99. The store, however, seemed to be running low.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Hardly any water bottles were left on the shelves …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… but there were a ton of groceries. It definitely had more to offer than CVS in that department.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

At the end of a long aisle was a pharmacy offering flu shots, blood-pressure tests, and other services. There were multiple aisles of cold medicines and supplements, as well as a small waiting area near the pharmacy.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

As I made my way back to the exit, I went through an aisle filled with outdoor furniture, beach chairs, pool floats, and other seasonal products.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Even though Rite Aid had some obvious issues like abandoned shopping carts cluttering the aisles and low stock, it was still a drastically better environment to shop in than CVS. It was more organised, brighter, and cleaner. Because the prices are similar at each store and they both offer similar rewards perks, the atmosphere made Rite Aid the clear winner.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

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