Is Duane Reade New York’s Most Expensive Drugstore?

It’s time to have a little talk about Duane Reade.

duanereade

For the longest time, something has been nagging me about the prices at Duane Reade. It’s almost like everything is more expensive than it should be, but not too expensive that you’ll really take the time to think about shopping somewhere else.

Then, a few months ago, after my local mom-and-pop pharmacy went out of business, I started shopping at the local Duane Reade, and I became more and more convinced I was being charged higher prices for products I could buy cheaper at the rival CVS literally one block away (Duane Reade, incidentally, is owned by Walgreens). I decided to do a test to see if I was nuts, or if Duane Reade is in fact more expensive than other New York City drugstores.

First, I chose nine typical drug store items at random for comparison:

  • Shampoo: Head & Shoulders 2-in-1 line – 14.02 oz container
  • Medicine: Tylenol Extra Strength Caplets – 100 pack
  • Toothpaste: Arm & Hammer AdvanceWhite – 6 oz
  • Toilet Paper: Scott 1000-sheet 4-roll pack
  • Laundry Detergent: Tide Original 1.47l bottle
  • Deodorant: Old Spice Red Zone 3.0 oz
  • Contact Solution: Opti-Free Replenish – 2 Pack
  • Cereal: Frosted Flakes – 15oz box
  • Candy: Snickers bar – standard size

For stores, I chose two Duane Reades in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area that had rival drug stores within a few blocks:

  • Duane Reade at 164 Kent Ave, compared with CVS at 27 North 6th Street (one block apart);
  • Duane Reade at 893 Manhattan Ave, compared with CVS at 859 Manhattan Ave (one block apart), and Rite Aid at 783 Manhattan Ave (3.5 blocks away)

I also included the Duane Reade at Bedford Ave just to see how it stacked up against the rest, though it has no immediate competition and prices would presumably be higher.

Finally, if a store was having a sale on any of the products (which they all did intermittently), I ignored the sale price in favor of the normal store price, since sales are obviously temporary and cannot be relied upon. Here’s how it all stacked up:

01shampoo

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $7.49
CVS: $6.29

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $7.49
CVS: $6.29
Rite Aid: $6.59

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $7.49

……

02tylenol

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $10.99
CVS: $9.99

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $10.99
CVS: $9.99
Rite Aid: $10.49

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $10.99

……

03toothpaste

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $5.79
CVS: $4.99

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $5.29
Rite Aid: $5.29

CVS: $4.99

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $5.79

……

04toiletpaper

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $5.99
CVS: $4.69

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $5.99
CVS: $4.69
Rite Aid: $4.99

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $5.99

……

05tide

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $11.99
CVS: $10.49

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $11.99
CVS: $8.99
Rite Aid: $10.29

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $11.99

……

06deod

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $6.79
CVS: $5.79

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $6.49

CVS: $5.49
Rite Aid: $5.49

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $6.79

……

07solution

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $21.99
CVS: $18.99

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $21.99
CVS: $18.99
Rite Aid: $18.99

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $21.99

……

08cereal

Kent Ave
CVS: $6.29

Duane Reade: $5.99

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $5.99

CVS: $5.99

Rite Aid: $5.29

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $5.99

……

09candy

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $1.39
CVS: $1.19

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $1.39
CVS: $1.19
Rite Aid: $1.15

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $1.39

……

And if you were to buy all nine products at each drug store?

GRAND TOTALS

Kent Ave
Duane Reade: $78.41
CVS: $68.71

Manhattan Ave
Duane Reade: $77.61
CVS: $66.61
Rite Aid: $68.57

Bedford Ave
Duane Reade: $78.49

In nearly every case, Duane Reade had the most expensive standard pricing.

Now let’s talk about sales. Duane Reade was also the drug store offering the most sales on the products above. But it was weird. Sometimes, the sale price beat the competition – the shampoo above was marked down to $5.49/bottle, for example, and deodorant marked down to $4.79.

But other times, the sale price was still more expensive than at competing stores – contact solution was “on sale” for $19.99, but that was still more expensive than the regular $18.99 price found literally everywhere else. Other times, they’d advertise something like toilet paper as a “Great Deal,” at a price ($5.99) that was nonetheless way higher than the competition.

Regardless, the with sales prices included in the final tally, the Duane Reade totals were still in the low $70 range – still more expensive, and that’s not even factoring in the sales at rival stores.

Final Conclusion

In short, it seems that Duane Reade charges the shit out of you at normal price, then uses occasional sales to give you the sense that you’re actually getting deals. Whereas rivals CVS and Rite Aid don’t have as many items on sale, but keep prices at a much lower every day standard, which ultimately seems to work out much better for the consumer.

Glad to know that I’m not completely nuts (well, besides the fact that I took the time to do this ridiculous study). Obviously, this was limited to just a few locations in Brooklyn – feel free to share your own experiences.

-SCOUT

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34 comments

  1. Wow, those are definatly New York prices… It’s clear that CVS wins this comparison. Here in Seattle I go to the really actually “locally owned” Bartell Drugs or one of the Big Box stores. Wallgreens seems to be the high end…

    • Walgreens owns Duane Reade. If you shop right you can spend less money and those loyalty cards makes a huge difference. Frosted Flakes I only buy them on sale $1.99 or $3.79 depending on size stock up like a hoarder when they are and you are good to go! I live in NYC and my food bill is less then $400 a month with 2 kids

      • Right. On. I have loyalty cards for every drugstore, and supermarket in eastern Queens, plus comparison shop at Target, the 99 cent stores, even Staples. It is like the stock market, you have to follow the rise and fall. You have to clip coupons and keep them handy. You have to follow the seasonal sales for certain items. Pluscheck the web for manufacurers coupons for your favorite brands,.after you have clipped the local pennysaver. You need to know the local.comsumer regs,.and go after rainchecks,.and keep them in date order so you get the value retuned to your wallet. Beyond that, ditch brand loyalty, and go for the bargains. Many house brands are made in the same factories and they are usually worth a try.

  2. Interesting! I’m generally a fan of Duane Reade but even if I weren’t they’re getting a Time-Warner-like choke-hold on the city. Near my office I have four Duane Reades to choose from within a 5 block radius, but nothing else. At home, I have a Rite Aid but it’s the worst place on earth and I’d rather pay the extra couple of bucks for a more pleasant experience at the shiny new Duane Reade. It’s a shame about the independent stores; I always thought the advantage the chains had over them was the ability to undercut prices!

  3. Duane Reade was once (we’re talking last century) the new kid in town and the cheapest place in town. Over time they’ve expanded, raised their prices, and gutted their so-called loyalty program. For a time they were engaging in that delightful predatory game of “Let’s open up a branch and drive the local mom-n-pop pharmacy out of business then close the branch.”

    A year or two ago they were bought up by Walgreens, so no longer any difference. They’ve had Walgreen’s brand generics on their shelves for a while now.

  4. When something is cheaper, someone is getting screwed. I tend to find the shopping experience at CVS and Rite Aid so poor that I have to be completely desperate to go in one. I’d much rather go into Duane Reade, but then I’m someone that has an fairly cheap apartment that I don’t have to penny pinch on soap. (Also besides the store experience, I’m picky as hell about the types of products I buy: brand, chemical content, etc. Duane Reade and Walgreens just have better options.)

    • Wow, really? I HATE the shopping experience at Duane Reade and Walgreens and Rite Aid… the only pharmacy/convenience store I can stand in NYC is CVS… but I was brought up in the suburbs going to CVS.

      I really think the quality of Duane Reades can vary so much in the city. There’s one on 5th ave and 44th St that is terrible, for example, but the one on Madison and 39th (or 40th) is really nice. In comparison, I feel each CVS I have been to in the city is generally high-quality.

  5. You have released my inner Kraken of frugality! Not only is CVS less expensive, when you get their discount card you quickly accumulate points for free products or discounts of $5 or more. CVS also has “buy one get one free or 50%” just about every week. There are websites dedicated to shopping at CVS and maximizing your points so you can get many products free. I know everyone hates WalMart however; 14.2 oz Head and Shoulders is only $4.97 and you get double the washes with the Tide they have for $9.87.

  6. I ask the same question about Gristedes.

    • Gristedes was always more expensive, predicated on the idea of convenience, when there were fewer chain grocery stores in the city. It all depends on how far you wanted to carry your purchases.

    • Gristedes was once the rich folks’ grocer. They got bought out by the Red Apple chain ca. 1986. They still have many stores in Manhattan, don’t know about the outer boroughs. They used to have great quality with prices to match. Now, they’re a last resort. I don’t understand how they survive in neighborhoods that have Whole Foods, Fairway, and Trader Joe within a few blocks. But they do. Their eccentric owner, by the way, actually ran for mayor in the last election.

  7. The same thing happens in Canada with Shoppers Drug Mart. They always have the higher prices of the major franchises, for many of the items that you discussed in your article, and for certain things, if you shop at mom & pop places, or independent grocers with a health & beauty section, the price diference is pretty shocking.

    Shoppers also has its own “house brand” which is more affordable, and in all likelihood just as good quality, but people usually don’t go for off-brands because they think they’re not as good.

  8. Like many commenters above, the CVS/Not DR are decrepit locations around me. The DR’s are clean and organized and USED to be competitive. Clearly, they no longer are….
    Also checked your market basket with Soap.com and realize that while many of the items listed above were even cheaper on line, SEVERAL, such as Tylenol and Opti-fresh were exhorbitantly more expensive.
    Many thanks for the comparison. You have reminded me to pay attention again…I was living in DR-past!!!

  9. I’ve noticed this trend for years. Maybe I’m just frugal but I’ve always wondered why anyone ever bought anything at DR, given how marked up it all was. Literally, even their store brand is more expensive than name brands at other stores (I’m talking about like cookies and stuff).

    I’ll grant them that their redesigned stores are way nicer looking than dumpy CVS’s which, even when new (like the N 6th & Kent location) feels grimy and old like it’s been there, unloved, getting run down for 15+ years. But whatever, I’m not gonna pay a premium on every item forever just for glossy concrete floors…

    RIP Kings!

  10. Wow… I thought prices in Alaska were high…

    I teach a personal finance class and I’m always amazed at how many people do not comparison shop or get a feel for where the best pricing is at. Good job on doing the research.

  11. Sarah Rosenblatt

    Wow, good to know! I checked these on soap.com, as well, and they usually (although not always) had the best price of all the stores you compared. And with free shipping once you hit $49 in the cart (which is fairly easy to do), that’s where I do almost all of my drugstore shopping these days.

  12. Once DR ditched their loyalty program I ditched them. You have to spend more money to get meaningless points. Give me a CVS any day and the 5′ roll of coupons I get. Even if their store design isn’t as quaint and luxurious as the design mecca known as DR (*Eye rolling for some of these comments*), I’d rather save money. I’m not one of “those” New Yorkers.

  13. I switched to soap.com awhile ago, mostly for their sister site Wag, but I find them to be cheaper than both CVS and Duane Reade.

  14. Out here in Western Nassau County/Eastern Queens county the CVS on Jamaica Ave/Jericho Turnpike in Bellerose is a really clean store and the pharmacy dept . have the greatest people working behind the counter. They couldn’t be nicer and more considerate. No DR’s in the area.

  15. Supermarkets often have lower prices on health and beauty supplies than drug stores. Not always, but it’s worth a look.

  16. Somebody has to be more expensive. DW banks on location. It has aggressively bought real estate and while you may pay more you can always find one of these stores (once owned by Bain Capital).

  17. It is quite a bit more expensive than it used to be. I used to shop at DR semi-often as the prices were usually around or lower than CVS and Rite-Aid, plus they were usually located on the way to work/near me.

    I don’t get things from there anymore following their acquisition by Walgreens Pharmacy. The prices went up significantly following the acquisition.

  18. Awesome.

    Good to know. Duanne Reade looks expensive too.

  19. I guess I am lucky here in FL because i have a great supermarket walking distance away. There is a Walgreen’s a block further but I would never think to shop there. In my past experience the drug store is always more expensive. How would a comparison to Trader Joe’s match up? There is a nice one in an old bank downtown.

  20. I only buy the items on sale at Duane Reade. Although the prices seem better than when I was first introduced to Duane Reade while working in Newark.

    Another article with a similar outcome http://www.businessinsider.in/Where-To-Buy-Common-Household-Items-In-NYC-For-The-Lowest-Price/articleshow/25712885.cms

  21. Back in the late 1980s I discovered Duane Reade because there was a store near where I worked. Shampoo, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent and candy, were significantly less expensive at DR than at NYC supermarkets or bodegas or places like Ricky’s (which was a big deal at the time). But keep in mind there were no Target/Wal-Mart/CVS, suburban-type stores in Manhattan or Brooklyn, so they really had no competition.

  22. I prefer to shop in a local “Mom & Pop” place when it’s an option, even if it costs a little more (which it doesn’t always do). But convenience usually wins out, as much as price, and I shop what’s closest. I’ve got DR, Walgreens, and K-Mart all within 2 blocks. CVS two more blocks away, and Rite-Aid several more.
    One of the funny things about the DR acquisition is that the identical items often cost less at Walgreens than the do at DR. Some things are half the price.
    I did my own comparison study a few years ago on things I buy most. (Though pricing trends do change, and it’s time to repeat the process.) I find most things better-priced at Walgreens, some at K-Mart. I never go to DR any more unless I’m in another neighborhood, need something quickly, and it’s the only choice.
    The CVS at 8th St. and University Place in Manhattan is nice, clean and organized. Rite aid is further away but for some particular items I will go there for consistently lower prices and frequent good sales.

  23. If you really want to see high prices, try the Duane Reade on Wall Street. It is scary.

    Second, if you have CVS loyalty card, they are constantly sending coupons for 20%, 25%, even 30% off on various weekends (I’m about to take advantage of one today.). Combine that with their “ExtraBucks”- dollar off coupons of your total purchase, and CVS is definitely the better deal.

    Finally, here on Staten Island, the CVS stores are cleaner and better organized than most of the DR and Walgreens.

  24. Wow. Thank you for this, Nick!

    We have a CVS just about a block away from the newly renovated and spruced up Duane Reade. I have one of those Walgreens/Duane Reade loyalty cards, but it seems like the rewards never kick in. The CVS is really grotty, though, so I’ll probably stick with the Duane Reade, even though they’re robbing me blind.

  25. CVS is a far better store price-wise, although training of managers sometimes leave much to be desired (depending on location). CVS also has awesome coupon programs – much, much better than the measly $5 you save every $1000 or so you spend at D-R. I’ve saved a lot of money at CVS over the years.

  26. I find all of those chain things to be overpriced. I go to a local mom & pop kind of place and find the prices as much as 66% lower. Guess we should shop local if we really want to save.

  27. Glad you’ve confirmed what I’ve long suspected. Duane Reade is a total rip off. I know it’s a different comparison because it’s cross state, but the deodorant I buy costs $6.99 per stick at a store in PA where i grew up. At the Duane Reade near my office (6th ave and 27th) it costs $14.99!!!!!! isn’t that insane? it’s literally twice as expensive. The same thing is rounghly $11 at the Riteaid on Manhattan Ave.

  28. Those prices are absurd. I live above a 24 hour Duane Reade and other than picking up prescriptions I try to shop elsewhere unless it’s a last minute emergency.

    $6 for that 4-pack of Scott toilet paper for instance is crazy. I usually buy bigger packages for less than $1 a roll, but in my experience mom-and-pop bodegas usually sell single rolls of TP for $1 each! And even at my laundromat, where you’d assume you’re getting ripped off, they sell you bottles of Tide for $9. They buy them at Costco for half of that.

  29. just want to thank you for doing this. very helpful! enjoyed some of the posts, too. DR is a gouger and also, often, out of half the things I want. but the research is really helpful.

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