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Shop smarter at the drugstore

Free apps that save time and money

Published: December 2012

An easy way to make your errand-running faster and cheaper is to download store apps. Many retailers have them, including the big national drugstore chains and mass retailers. We took a look at apps from eight major prescription retailers: Costco, CVS, Kmart, Rite Aid, Sam’s Club, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart.

All of the apps are free and give you shortcuts for a bunch of shopping tasks, such as finding a store near you, checking out weekly store ads, and creating shopping lists so that you won’t forget anything on your next trip. And most make it easy to fill or refill a prescription. Some also do other helpful things like let you shop from your phone, manage your store rewards program, or send pictures to in-store photo centers for printing.

When it comes to store pharmacies, the basics of each app are pretty much the same. To submit prescription refills, you can either type in your account info and prescription refill number (located on most pill bottles) or scan the Rx barcode on the bottle. Your request goes instantly to your usual pharmacy so that you can pick it up in the store. Some apps let you transfer prescriptions to or from another pharmacy—they want to make it easy for you to use their services—and you can even use your phone to check whether the location nearest you has an in-store medical clinic or a drive-thru, or is open 24 hours.

But not all apps are worth the download. Target, Kmart, and Sam’s Club are non-starters when it comes to pharmacy help. Read on to see the drugstore apps we like, what they do best, plus features that can make shopping easier and cheaper.

Walgreens

Best for: Managing your family’s health care. 

Why we like it: This app is full-service. You can use it to do just about everything you’d do in a Walgreens store, and then some. Use it to refill prescriptions (for you, your family, and pets, too!); set up appointments for screenings, shots, or even a Medicare review; schedule reminders to take your pills; and scan a prescription you’d like to transfer to other locations.

Bonus features: You can shop and order items (just not items from behind the counter) from your phone. You can see at a glance where the deals are by scanning the sale section in each department. Send photos from your phone or from Facebook to the photo center at the store to be picked up in about an hour. If you’d rather shop in person, use the scanner to create a shopping list. You can even map out your trips down to the aisle you need to visit and grab any mobile coupons. When you get to the store to pick up your items, just hand the cashier your phone at checkout and you’ll get the coupon savings, no clipping required, as well as any discounts from the Balance Rewards program.

Bummers: The shopping list doesn’t sync with the cart, so if you choose to shop in the app, you have to manually add everything from the shopping list you created to your cart.

Works on: Android, Apple, BlackBerry.

CVS & Rite Aid

Best for: Easy navigation 

Why we like them: These two no-nonsense apps have all the necessities to refill and transfer prescriptions. If you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles and have a Rite Aid or CVS around the corner, you can’t lose.

Bonus features: You can use your phone as your mobile rewards card (ExtraCare for CVS and Wellness+ for Rite Aid). You can also send photos from your phone to CVS store locations for pickup the same day, and you can shop CVS.com via the app. You can’t do that for Rite Aid, but you can pull available e-coupons to your phone and use them at the in-store checkout counter.

Bummers: This is where the two apps differ the most. At CVS, the shopping list doesn’t let you add anything without first finding the weekly ad (under “deals” and “use my location”) and adding items from there. For Rite Aid, the ad (under “store”) defaults to “page” view, which is low-resolution and practically illegible when you zoom in; switch to “list” before you start browsing.

Works on: Android, Apple; CVS also works on BlackBerry.

Walmart

Best for: Finding cheap drugs. 

Why we like it: It has a menu of available $4 prescriptions, easily organized by condition.

Bonus features: You can make Walmart.com purchases from your phone, track orders, or sync the cart you started from your computer to the one on your phone. You can find in-store coupons on your phone. Just “clip” them, then print them out at home and bring them with you to the store. The app’s shopping list function includes a subtotal so that you know what to expect at checkout, but not all product prices come up automatically, so you may have to enter some prices manually.

Bummers: Before you sign in at Walmart’s mobile pharmacy, you have to create a pharmacy account on Walmart.com, so the app isn’t entirely self-sufficient. You can’t transfer prescriptions within the app. Also, we think it would be nice if the coupons worked directly from your phone without having to print them.

Works on: Android, Apple.

Costco

Best for: Checking drug prices and other info. 

Why we like it: Costco lists the prices of prescriptions so that you can compare prices and research your options yourself. The drug info section is handy if you lose the paperwork they give you at the pharmacy counter or if you need to look up side effects or other instructions. Bonus—you don’t have to be a Costco member to use the warehouse club’s pharmacy.

Bonus features: You can access the fully shoppable website Costco.com (nonmembers pay a 5 percent surcharge), use the Photo app to send pics to the store to print, and manage your membership status (for example, renew or upgrade). You can also browse Costco’s other services, which include insurance, home refinancing, travel planning, custom blinds, carpet cleaning, water delivery, and much more.

Bummers: You can’t use the app to transfer prescriptions or scan refills.

Works on: Android, Apple

Editor's Note: These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin). 
   

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