5 Things Not to Buy at CVS

Last Updated Apr 4, 2011 4:44 PM EDT

This article is part of a package on shopping at CVS. Read the other article, on 5 things you should buy at CVS.

You'd think that the core competency of a drugstore would be filling prescriptions, so why are the pharmacies at CVS (and all its competitors) in the very back of the store? Because that way, you've got miles of aisles to navigate — and baskets full of impulse buys to resist — on the way. The drugstore chains have been growing by offering higher-end cosmetics, more store brands, expanding their grocery offerings, and even selling prepared food. Would you like a CVS salad with your Lipitor? No store can be all things to all people all the time, though, so don't let the one-stop shopping convenience empty your wallet. Below are five items you'd be better off buying elsewhere, for reasons of price, quality, or selection.

1. Batteries

In a Consumer Reports test in 2009, CVS’s alkaline AA batteries came in dead last among 9 different brands, behind those of Walgreens and Costco (the Panasonic Evolta topped the list, holding its charge more than twice as long as the CVS brand).

2. Bottled Water

This is one product that’s usually cheaper at supermarkets; plus they usually stock more brands. A case of 24 half-liter bottles of Arrowhead water, for example, was recently selling for $5.99 at CVS, versus $3.79 at Safeway. Beside the Arrowhead, CVS only carried Nestle Pure Life in addition to its store brand, while Safeway was offering Aquafina, Dasani, Fiji, Crystal Geyser, Evian, and its in-house brand — all selling for $5.49 or less per case. And unless you get lucky and snag a sale somewhere, warehouse stores Costco and BJ’s will be the cheapest of all.

3. Hair Dryers

CVS has several hair dryers to choose from — as long as you like Conair. That was the only brand on the shelf of three Los Angeles CVS stores, although a CVS spokesperson says that the store usually stocks more than one brand. Bed, Bath and Beyond was recently stocking six brands of hair dryers, including a Consumer Reports Best Buy, the Revlon Ionic Ceramic Pro Stylist, for $19.99.

4. Cereal

The markup on cereal at supermarkets is already high, and it typically costs even more at CVS, where floor space is limited. For example, a box of Total that costs $5.79 at CVS was selling for $3.99 at a local supermarket. You might hit a good sale, but before throwing down your cash, make sure it’s a real sale, not just a marketing move masquerading as a deal. In one Southern California CVS store, a sign beneath single-serving cups of cereal read, “Stock Up! 10/$10.” The regular price per cup? $1.00.

5. Small Appliances

Unless you need to press a prom dress in a panic, take a pass on CVS’s appliances. The basics that CVS sells — irons, toasters, blenders, coffeemakers — can be useful in a pinch, and none of them costs more than about $40. But there are only two or, at most, three brands to choose from in each category, and those low prices can be found at other places where there’s more of a selection. For example, Sears recently had 12 irons on display, five of them for under $40.

Photo: Andrew Deci

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