- Walgreens,CVS, and Rite Aid are drugstore chains that sell everything from groceries to greeting cards.
- All three stores have pharmacies that offer services like flu shots.
- They each have a rewards program that can earn shoppers major discounts.
- When we visited neighbouring locations of Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid in Westchester, New York, we found that the atmospheres of the three stores were drastically different.
- On Thursday, Rite Aid and grocer Albertson’s called off their massive $US24 billion merger. Rite Aid shares fell by as much as 11% on the news.
Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid carry everything from groceries and cosmetics to household supplies and greeting cards. Each store has a pharmacy, and the chains all have rewards cards that offer serious savings.
But the stores’ atmospheres couldn’t be more different. When we visited a Walgreens in Westchester, it was bright, clean, and well organised. Upbeat music was playing, and plenty of people were shopping around.
When we visited a CVS store just five minutes away, it 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 fell in the middle – it was mostly clean, but there were bins and shopping carts everywhere and a lot of empty shelves. It was also very quiet.
Same-store sales were down by 1.2% at Walgreens in the most recent quarter, while at CVS, which is in the midst of a merger with Aetna, same-store sales were up by 1.6%. Rite Aid saw same-store sales decrease by 0.7% in its most recent quarter. On Thursday, Rite Aid and grocer Albertson’s called off their $US24 billion merger. Rite Aid shares fell by as much as 11% on the news.
Here’s what it’s like to shop at each store:
Rite Aid was the first store I went to.
In the entryway were a shelf of toys and a Rite Aid weekly ad.
Cosmetics was the first department, selling 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+ rewards members.
Rite Aid’s Wellness+ rewards program offers almost identical perks as Walgreens’ program, allowing shoppers to earn points on every purchase. At each store, almost every product had a rewards-member-only lower price.
The shelves were well stocked and organised, but there were carts and blue bins everywhere, blocking the aisle.
This continued throughout the store — there were big blue bins everywhere.
Near the cosmetics section was a small jewellery display with necklaces, bracelets, and earrings for $US10 or less.
There were two aisles filled with greeting cards and gift-wrapping supplies …
… office supplies …
… books and magazines …
… and an “as seen on TV” section.
Rite Aid also carried toys, but the selection was underwhelming.
Groceries were on the other end of the store, next to a small photo-printing station. There were gallons of milk for $US2.99, but the store seemed to be running low.
There were hardly any water bottles left on the shelves …
… but there were a ton of groceries.
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.
Walking toward the exit, I went through an aisle filled with outdoor furniture, beach chairs, pool floats, and other seasonal products. The store was relatively clean, but blue bins were left everywhere, and a significant number of products were out of stock. The store offered a lot of deals for rewards members.
Next I went to CVS, just two minutes down the road.
The cosmetics section was to the left of the entrance. The store also carried typical drugstore brands like Maybelline, L’Oreal, and CoverGirl. Product prices typically ranged from $US8 to $US20.
The section didn’t give the best first impression of the store. Many shelves were half empty or falling apart.
Farther down the 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.
At the end of the aisle were a few shelves of jewellery with products similar to those at Rite Aid. Most pieces cost under $US10.
There were also greeting cards and candles …
… office supplies …
… and tons of random products throughout the store. In one aisle there were “as seen on TV” products, picture frames, toys, and candy.
One aisle over 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 there were offering special rewards-member-only deals, a trend that continued through the whole store.
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 aisle of groceries. There was no waiting area, and people were wandering around, waiting for a pharmacist to be ready to help them.
Near the groceries 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. Chocolate syrup was on display in front of the milk …
… and 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.
Back toward the front of the store was the photo department. It was silent.
By the register were candy and gum packages, most of which cost under $US2. Even here, there were empty shelves and special deals for rewards-program members.
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.
My final stop was Walgreens, five minutes from CVS and Rite Aid.
The layout was similar to the other stores, with cosmetics at the front of the store. Walgreens carried the same brands as the other stores, and the prices were about the same as well.
The store was much brighter and much more organised than CVS. Empty shelves were few and far between, and all prices were clearly labelled.
The store felt spacious compared with CVS and Rite Aid, though they’re roughly the same size. Everything was more spread out, and instead of grey and red or dark blue, signage was light blue and white, which made it feel cheery.
Most products at the three stores overlapped, like greeting cards …
… cleaning, kitchen, and home supplies …
… and groceries. Walgreens’ grocery selection was nearly identical to CVS’s, but at Walgreens it was a lot less cluttered and easier to see each product. Rite Aid had the biggest selection of groceries, taking up two aisles instead of one.
Walgreens sold sodas and other refrigerated drinks. The prices were about the same as at CVS and Rite Aid, but Walgreens had the widest variety.
There was an aisle filled with cold medicines and supplements, each of which had a special members-only price.
Walgreens’ Balance Rewards program allows shoppers to earn points for every dollar spent, which can add up to discounts on future purchases.
The pharmacy at Walgreens was similar to the one at Rite Aid, and both were much nicer and bigger than the one at CVS. At CVS, it was shoved in the back of the store, hidden behind aisles, with no designated waiting area. Walgreens’ pharmacy was spacious and easier to find, with a waiting area and a much bigger counter with more staff members working.
Unlike at CVS and Rite Aid, the photo department at Walgreens had a line of people waiting to print photos, and an employee was there, ready to help. There were three people at the registers as opposed to zero at CVS and one at Rite Aid. Overall, Walgreens was the cleanest of the stores, offered the widest selection, and was generally the nicest place to shop.
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