Independent vs. Chain Pharmacies

Emily Torgerson  •   April 4, 2019

When it comes to filling prescriptions, it’s normal to consider things like price, quantity and side effects, but do you ever consider where you’re picking up your medication?

The Two Types of Retail Pharmacies: Chain and Independent

Before the 1980s, local mom and pop drugstores made up most of the pharmacies in the country. Between 1980 and 2000, however, national chains became more prevalent and caused thousands of independent pharmacies to go under. However, independent community pharmacies remain a major segment of the overall pharmacy marketplace. Presently, 35 percent of all pharmacies are independently-owned.1 With so many different options, it’s essential to know what factors are most important when choosing a trusted pharmacy.

Benefits of Chain Pharmacies:

  • Proximity. With big-box retailers becoming more prevalent by the day, chances are you can find one on your local street corner, especially if you live in urban or suburban areas.
  • Convenience. Most chain pharmacies are open until 10 PM or later, allowing people flexibility in picking up prescriptions.
  • One-Stop Shop. Chain pharmacies carry more than just prescriptions, so if you’re out of paper towels or looking for the perfect lipstick, there’s no need to make two trips.
  • Some chain pharmacies offer digital services to make refilling prescriptions easier. Users can download mobile apps to easily view prescription history, track delivery and set reminders so you never miss a refill.
  • Additional Services. Chain pharmacies usually offer convenient health care services, including immunizations, wellness screenings and diagnosis of minor illnesses and injuries.
  • Rewards Programs. Chain pharmacies can offer huge savings by offering rewards programs. Earn credits by simply creating an account, refilling a prescription, or signing up for text alerts.

Benefits of Independent Pharmacies:

  • Customer Service and Friendliness. According to a Consumer Reports survey, 50 percent of people who fill prescriptions at an independent pharmacy said their pharmacist knew them by name, compared to only 14 percent at chain drugstores.2
  • Patient-Centered Focus. Smaller staff at independent pharmacies means the pharmacist could also be your cashier! With more time to converse, it’s easier to ask questions about your prescription and get the answers you’re looking for. This may occur at retail chains as well.
  • Same-Day Delivery. Independent pharmacies typically serve people who live close, meaning they can often deliver patients’ prescriptions that same day at no cost.
  • Decreased Wait Times. Research shows independent pharmacies have far shorter wait times than retail chain and clinic pharmacies.3
  • Custom Prescription Orders. Much like delivery, some independent pharmacies will offer their customers compounding and custom blend options, as they have the time and flexibility to offer. Retail chains may also offer compounding with advanced notice, although perhaps not as specialized.    

The Consensus

If you’re looking for that cozy, hometown feel with personalized service, then an independent pharmacy may be right for you. However, if rewards programs and being able to fill prescriptions digitally is most important to you, visit your local retail chain.

National CooperativeRx works closely with CVS Caremark to provide our members high-quality and cost-effective pharmacy benefit management. Be sure to download the CVS Pharmacy mobile app and explore CVS Health’s ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards program and MinuteClinic locations to help you get the most out of your pharmacy benefit plan. 

  1. Hoey, Douglas. “A Roadmap for Independent Community Pharmacies.” 2018 NCPA Digest: A Roadmap for Independent Community Pharmacies, 2018, www.cardinalhealth.com/en/essential-insights/2018-ncpa-digest.html.
  2. Gill, Lisa L. “Consumers Still Prefer Independent Pharmacies, CR’s Ratings Show.” Consumer Reports, 2018, consumerreports.org/pharmacies/consumers-still-prefer-independent-pharmacies-consumer-reports-ratings-show/.
  3. Donohue, Christine. “Blog.” Career Opportunities at Micro Merchant Systems, 2018, micromerchantsystems.com/blogdetail/are-your-customers-waiting-too-long-for-prescriptions