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Top Drug Stores for Bargain Shoppers

Updated on April 10, 2012

Bargain shopping has become not only hip, but downright ESSENTIAL for many families who are seeking ways to stretch their household budgets in the current economic climate. Many who never clipped a coupon before are now doing so - enthusiastically. As Coupon Moms, Coupon Dads, or Coupon Divas, we recognize the golden opportunities for savings that are available to the thrifty shopper by the combination of great sale prices, coupons (we LOVE DOUBLE COUPONS), rewards programs, and rebate offers offered by the national chain grocery and drug stores.

Each store offers a unique reward / rebate program with individual corporate coupon policies. For our purpose in this Hub, we will evaluate only the best reward and rebate programs of the national chain drug stores. Of the national drug chains that offer a rewards/rebate program, there are really only three to consider. These three are the crème de la crème for bargain shoppers.

So, of the top three national drug store chains that cater to bargain divas and coupon moms with their various rewards and rebate programs, which earns my top savvy shopper rating - CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens?

And my top picks are . . .


CVS Pharmacy
CVS Pharmacy

#1 Top Pick - CVS

CVS, the largest of the national chain drug stores with $98,729,000,000 in revenues in 2009, is my #1 Top Pick. My thinking is that they must be doing something right to earn that kind of loyalty (dollars spent) from customers.

CVS has a rewards program that they call Extra Care via a customer loyalty card. Customers receive Extra Care Bucks (ECBs) when they make a purchase of an advertised weekly special that CVS runs. For example, an Oral B Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush, ordinarily sold for $32.99, might be offered at a sale price of $23.00, with $13.00 in ECBs printed at the register. That makes the net price $10.00 plus tax. But wait, if you clipped your $10 coupon from the Sunday newspaper for an Oral B Electric Toothbrush, you will also save an additional $10, making the net price of the toothbrush FREE!! Just be sure to use your ECBs next time you come in to make a purchase. Hint from a veteran: Treat your Extra Care Bucks like money because THEY ARE! Keep them in your purse or wallet so that you will not forget to use them before they expire.

Magical CVS Coupon Kiosk!
Magical CVS Coupon Kiosk!

CVS also offers store coupons at their bright red magical coupon kiosk, either for a specific product or dollar off a certain purchase price. Occasionally, CVS offers $4 off $20 or $5 off $25 coupons at the coupon kiosk and for their customers who sign up to receive emails from them. At CVS, you can use manufacturer coupons with the ECBs, as I noted in the Oral B example. BONUS: You can use CVS's store coupons, along with manufacturer coupons AND any ECBs you may have. With so many ways I can save at CVS with a minimum of time and effort, what's not to love?

How to Shop CVS 101

In addition to offering great sale prices and Extra Care offers, CVS gives rainchecks. So, if your local CVS pharmacy is sold out of the Oral B toothbrush special offer when you come in to make your purchase, they will honor the special with a raincheck that says that you are entitled to the sale price and the Extra Care Bucks at a future date when the item is in stock. My only complaint with CVS is that they almost always underestimate the demand for the advertised specials, so they do not stock enough of the items, and I often have to ask for rainchecks. That said, their raincheck policy is GREAT, so I eventually get the specials at the advertised price AND my ECBs.

Savvy Drugstore Shopping with Coupon Mom

Rite Aid Pharmacy
Rite Aid Pharmacy

#2 Pick - Rite Aid

Rite Aid, the nation's third largest drug store chain, with revenues of $26,289,500,000 in 2009, is my #2 Pick. Rite Aid offers the most ways for frugal shoppers to save of any of the chain drug stores. This is great IF you have some extra time to work all the possible avenues.

Rite Aid offers a Wellness Plus reward program via a loyalty card, which entitles you to advertised specials, as well as +Up Rewards that are offered on products, similar to ECBs from CVS. Rite Aid has an online rebate program called Single Check Rebate. They also offer store coupons that customers can print online at Rite Aid Video Values when they watch product videos. To access these programs, you are required to register for your Wellness Plus Card and FOR EACH program separately online. Finally, Rite Aid's Wellness Plus Rewards program entitles you to 10% - 20% discounts for store brand products based on your cumulative purchase amount.

Single Check Rebate (SCR) at Rite Aid

As with CVS, at Rite Aid, you can take advantage of a combination of advertised sale prices (through Wellness Plus card), Rite Aid coupons (through online Video Values), manufacturer coupons, +UP rewards, AND Single Check Rebates together on a single purchase. When I was first shopping at Rite Aid, I was bringing so much home at such a ridiculously low price that my husband was afraid that someone would arrest me while I was leaving the store. I'm very pleased to report that it hasn't happened!

This myriad of ways to save in one store is VERY effective BUT, quite frankly, exhausting, which is why Rite Aid earns my #2 spot.

Walgreens Pharmacy
Walgreens Pharmacy

#3 Pick - Walgreens

Walgreens, the second largest national drug store chain with $63,335,000,000 in revenues in 2009, comes in last place as my #3 Pick. Unfortunately, Walgreens has a coupon policy that is so difficult it is almost incoherent to a newcomer.

Walgreens is the only one of the top three chain drug stores that does not offer a customer loyalty "reward" card. For their efforts to keep personal data on their customers where it ought to be - with the customer - I give them kudos.

How to Shop Walgreens 101

The rest of Walgreen's rewards program consists of Instant Value Coupon (IVCs, or in-ad coupons), Walgreens monthly booklet coupons, and Register Rewards. Walgreen's Register Rewards work much like CVS's ECBs and Rite Aid's +UP Rewards, with one HUGE exception: Walgreens will NOT honor advertised specials that receive a Register Reward IF the item is out of stock. In other words, Walgreens does NOT offer rain checks on Register Reward items. For this oversight alone, they get two thumbs down and earn a third place finish out of a field of three.

However, I have one more major complaint with Walgreens. IF you attempt to use your IVCs, coupons from the Walgreens coupon book, Register Rewards, AND manufacturer coupons in the same transaction, you are going to end up confused, mad, and embarrassed - especially if there happen to be any other customers waiting in line, rolling their eyes, and pretending to be patient.

Although you can "stack" all the available coupons and rewards you have when making a purchase at CVS or Rite Aid, you are limited at Walgreens. You have to purchase the same number of items as you have total coupons - of any type - in order for all your coupons to work. Thus, you may be required to purchase what avid couponers call a "filler item" in order to be able to use all your coupons. Even then, if you hand the cashier the coupons in the WRONG order, the register will beep enough during the transaction to make you want to walk away empty-handed!! (I didn't need the cough medicine, anyway. A little congestion gives the immune system something to do).

Fortune 500 Drug Store Rankings for 2011

Drug Store Ranking 
Revenue (in $ millions)
CVS Caremark 
Rite Aid 
Data courtesy of - Fortune 500 2011. *Unlike Fortune 500, food stores are not included in this table.

Which is Your Favorite?

Which of the top national chain drug stores is YOUR favorite?

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    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Great hub - I particularly appreciate the detailed comparison of products, and your easy-to-read table. Nicely done!

    • Staci-Barbo7 profile image

      Staci-Barbo7 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi, anglnwu. Yes, those coupons at the bottom of the receipt are great, aren't they? Those are Extra Care Bucks, or ECBs, that you earn when you make a purchase of an advertised item that qualifies for ECBs.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 7 years ago

      I love CVS as well. I find that I can save even more whenever they give the $5 off coupon that comes with the receipt. Love that store and I'm glad there is one just 3 minutes away from my house. Rated useful.