No matter where you go, nearly every brand has adopted the big-box retail store business model, meaning they now have almost everything in their inventory.
However, making things more convenient for shoppers often makes everything incredibly expensive.
The retail pharmacy chain Walgreens is a prime example of this price increase.
The prices at this prescription store giant can be considered expensive to many.
But, customers still show up in the millions every year to purchase medication, groceries, toiletry, and even outdoor products.
Why Is Walgreens So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
Compared to most other major retail outlets like Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, and Target, Walgreens can be considered higher priced to many consumers.
Even in comparison to similar pharmacies like CVS and RiteAid, you may still end up spending more money at Walgreens.
What’s the reason for the significant contrast in the price for Walgreens and other chains?
1. Jack Of All Trades
Before the days of the retail giants, there were mercantile locations all over.
This is just another name for a merchant specializing in one retail sector.
You had your bakery (or bread merchant), vegetable merchants, and pharmacy – there was a store for everything.
Prices were much lower back then.
Why were things so much cheaper?
You’re dealing with one product, for starters, so you’ve got a higher volume of customers because there’s no competition.
No competition means your prices can be much lower than they are now.
However, people started focusing more on convenience than quality, and the retail giants began popping up.
Stores like Walmart, K-Mart, and Roses paved the way for these trends, and sooner or later, most stores followed suit or went out of business.
You deal with more vendors when you sell multiple items, so your overhead is higher.
Currently, most retailers operate with this model somehow, and all the specialized merchants are all but gone.
Giant retailers can keep their prices down by manufacturing their own goods like Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Costco.
2. Quality Products
One of the most attractive things about shopping at Walgreens is the quality of its product selection.
The items on the shelf might have a higher price tag, but you usually walk away with a variety of higher-quality, name-brand items.
If you’ve ever shopped at Walgreens, you understand what we’re talking about.
The pharmacy isn’t the only part of the store that specializes in carrying the most popular branded items.
The nice thing about this dynamic is it’s not just limited to a couple of sections of the store – quality abounds at Walgreens, from cosmetics to candy.
You receive proof of this as soon as you walk into the store.
Typically, the first section you encounter is the cosmetics – most notably, the fragrance section.
Walgreens doesn’t do this by accident.
When you walk in and see a lineup of expensive perfumes and colognes in a nice glass case, it sets the tone for the rest of the shopping experience.
You expect to see quality items that will probably cost a little more than usual.
Navigating through the rest of the store, you’ll find other worthwhile products like expensive shampoos, electronic gadgets, kids’ toys, books, and even groceries.
Yes, even their food selection is above-par and void of items you would find at other stores.
3. Matching The Competition
The truth is, if you ask someone in one state, they might say that Walgreens is one of the lowest-priced stores around.
However, asking someone in another state might get a response explaining how they’re the most expensive.
Why is the contrast based on geographic location?
Walgreens does something known as competitor tracking and price matching.
This means that they keep up with the prices of all of the retail stores around them based on location.
For example, a Walgreens store in Missouri could sell facial cleaners for $4.00 per pack and be considered a rip-off.
However, in California, it could be $2 and considered a great deal.
This means that other stores in both areas charge the same for those products.
If you bring them in proof of a product’s price and theirs is more expensive, Walgreens will at least match the price, if not beat it.
This price matching protocol is standard in most retail industries.
Since the mom-and-pop stores shut down, the competition is stiffer, and there’s a store on every corner.
If consumers aren’t happy with your prices, most likely, they can drive a half-mile down the street and find a store with a better deal.
Price matching is almost mandatory to keep a retail store in business.
This can be an excellent situation for a consumer, or it could be a terrible situation.
Just as a retail giant will lower a price to match a competitor, they’ll increase the costs and get away with it if they feel that they can increase the price just as quickly.
4. Specialty Departments
If you haven’t noticed, Walgreens has quite a few specialty departments.
They’re not lackluster, cardboard cutout sections either.
We’re talking fully-staffed, with people operating them with the sole purpose of serving just that section.
For starters, you have the pharmacy.
However, the pharmacy has its own additional sub-sections that include the drive-through, a consultation area for questions, and the little room you see in the back while you wait on your medication.
This little private room attached to the waiting area is a vaccine station where you can conveniently receive nearly any vaccine or booster you need.
Let’s not forget the additional sections scattered throughout the store.
For starters, you have the cosmetic and fragrance section.
At most Walgreens, this section has its own dedicated cashier behind a glass counter, waiting to show you a plethora of high-end cologne or perfume.
You can walk into Walgreens and get treatment and service doesn’t come cheap.
It also gives customers an extra checkout lane if the front gets too crowded.
Then you’ve got the photo section.
This section of Walgreens has evolved from a one-person show where you develop your film to a full-service graphics station that provides multiple uses.
You can still have the person behind the counter develop your film, but there’s much more in play now.
Most stores have at least two kiosks where you can upload your own content and design photos, make cards, toggle different print sizes, and more.
You can send your graphics job to the printer, go do your shopping, and it’s ready by the time you’re ready to check out.
5. Reason To Join A Rewards Program
If you’re a regular shopper, you’ve probably noticed that most major retail chains offer some rewards program.
This is a regular practice in nearly all major industries, not just retail.
You see these types of programs in the hotel industry, the foodservice industry, and anywhere that garners a significant amount of regular and repeat business.
Retail outlets will focus on specific products on which their vendors give them volume deals.
They’ll raise the price of these items to a high level.
However, if you join their rewards program, you’ll receive a sizeable discount on these items.
Sometimes they might even be lowered as much as 50%.
Besides offering a discount on regular items throughout the store, Walgreens also offers a prescription rewards program that provides consumers with some advantages.
However, you’ll notice more of a price difference on single items when you use your rewards card than at the pharmacy.
Normally, the rewards program will track points.
Those points are then redeemable on items in the other store sections.
By spending your money exclusively with Walgreens pharmacy, the rewards you get keep your business in the store and force you to spend it on other things.
These are all carefully plotted marketing strategies that net retail outlets billions of dollars every year.
The prices of their prescription drugs weigh more on whether you have insurance, which brings us to reason number six.
6. The Uninsured Will Pay More
This is a uniform rule anywhere in the United States, not just at Walgreens.
When you don’t have insurance, you will pay a MUCH higher price for prescription drugs.
Insurance has been in place for decades and probably isn’t going anywhere soon.
In fact, without any insurance, the average person won’t be able to afford anywhere near the amount required to purchase their prescription drugs.
Have you ever attempted to pay for prescription drug products without insurance?
If you have, then you’ve experienced the price difference.
Some medications are priced up to 80% higher without the benefits of insurance coverage.
The type of prescription coverage you carry also plays a massive role in the final price you’ll pay at Walgreens.
It also has a significant role in the brand of the prescription medication you receive.
Better insurance companies cover more of the total price of your medication, allowing you to save more out-of-pocket.
Usually, these same insurance companies also give their clients access to name-brand prescription drugs, which are preferred over generic versions.
The price difference between these name-brand medications and their generic counterparts is significant.
Again, you could be looking at a significant price hike on these drugs.
7. The Convenience
Let’s not forget the primary reason why all smaller stores converted or absolved into larger chains.
The level of convenience provided to consumers through the existence of these stores is enormous.
The reasoning behind the drastic shift in the landscape of the American economy was convenience reasons.
In the “old days,” you might have had to go to multiple locations to do your shopping.
It wasn’t uncommon for the American housewife to spend a whole Saturday and Sunday satisfying the needs of her grocery list.
This included going to one location for meat, another for other grocery items, and yet another for prescription medications.
Add more stops to that list if the family requires additional items.
When Americans began working more and spending less time at home, the housewife position declined.
Women went to work because of drastic changes in our culture.
Both parents are now working full time more than ever because of increases in all of the consumer products we need.
When more of our time is required at work, it’s only natural for the need for more conveniences to increase.
Walgreens stores are a perfect example of this increase in shopping convenience.
Now, a husband and wife can hit the store on their way home every evening or go a mile down the road and get everything they need in one location.
This level of convenience costs money, and the American consumer foots the bill.
8. Free Vaccines
This has a major influence on the prices of items throughout a Walgreens store.
Walgreens has always offered a free vaccine program.
Walgreens has always offered free flu shots and continues this practice in all stores.
They’ve recently added COVID vaccines and boosters to their list of free offerings.
Depending on your area and a few other characteristics, they could have additional free vaccines available.
For example, certain programs offer free school and booster shots to elementary-age children.
They also have a notoriously popular vaccine program for the elderly that generates a lot of participants.
These services might be free on the front end, but corporate brass must cover the cost somehow.
This usually happens on shelves throughout the store.
9. Going Green
One of the main factors for increasing prices in the last couple of years is switching to a more environmentally friendly approach.
Walgreens went green and decided to power their stores in a way that’s easier for the environment.
This meant a complete restructure and renovation of multiple stores, which is no small job.
The project is ongoing, and we’re not sure how long it will take.
When you’re the second-largest pharmacy chain in the United States, a switch to environmentally friendly power sources will take a few dollars and a substantial amount of time.
The pharmacy giant decided to use geothermal energy, wind turbines, and solar panels to power its stores instead of relying on traditional energy.
This is great for the environment but not so great for consumers’ pockets.
However, in surveys conducted by multiple agencies, consumers stated they were more likely to do business with a company that makes an effort to use green, renewable energy.
If anything, Walgreens certainly has its fingers on the pulse of American consumers.
Choices that big box stores have made in the past regarding energy consumption have done a sizeable amount of damage to the environment.
This is Walgreens and other organizations’ way of making up for this negligence.
There are two bright spots here.
The first and most apparent is the benefit to our environment.
The second, and a little more far-fetched, is that maybe prices will trend downward after workers complete the project.
Here’s to wishing.
10. Expensive Products Covers The Difference Between The Cheap Items
Walgreens frequently offers sales and specials on specific items and promotional offers via their circular and website.
These specials provide much lower prices on everyday things shoppers often buy like soap, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc.
However, not all of these items always go on sale, and when they don’t, their price can be high.
In Walgreen’s defense, this isn’t anything new in the retail industry.
For decades companies have marked up other items to “markdown” sale items.
Another common ploy is raising the price of items to go on sale in the weeks before the promotion.
Prices are sometimes raised as high as 40 and 50%.
When the “big 50% off sale” hits, they’re still fetching the same price as they were initially, and most customers are none the wiser.
How Can I Save Money At Walgreens?
If you’re a dedicated Walgreens shopper, you’re probably looking for ways to save money at Walgreens in any way you can.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can accomplish this without much effort.
First, take advantage of the sales.
Walgreens releases circular papers that list all of their sales and promotions.
However, it’s essential to track the prices on these items before AND after the sale to figure out if you’re getting a good deal or if it’s just an illusion.
When you can catch a good deal, buy things in bulk.
This saves you money on the front end, but it protects you on the back end by avoiding constant trips to the store.
Finally, ask about the generic prices of their prescription drugs.
If you have insurance and pay a hefty copay for name-brand medication, inquire about generics next time you’re due for a refill.
You’d be surprised at how much you can save by choosing a lesser-known, generic form of your medicine.