7.06.2010

in which shoppers drug mart makes it very easy to boycott them

It just got much easier to boycott Shoppers Drug Mart. I discovered their prices are consistently higher than prices at my supermarket for the exact same item. Goodbye SDM, hello Loblaws.

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In April, I blogged about Shoppers Drug Mart's shameful response to Ontario cutting prices on generic drugs by eliminating "professional allowances".

PAs are payments generic drug manufacturers make to pharmacies in return for selling their products. The drugstores say those fees allow them to hire more staff, stay open more hours, and offer "extra services" such as law-compliant packaging, patient counseling and free delivery.

This is ridiculously transparent. Law-compliant packaging is not an extra. It is not optional; it is part of the cost of doing business. Patient counseling is not optional. It's what pharmacists are supposed to do: give information about the drugs they are dispensing. And while free delivery may seem like an extra, for many people, it is a necessity.

PAs allow drugstores to do business more cheaply, subsidized by the drug companies. But consumers pay for this subsidy in the form of higher drug prices. Ontario is now eliminating that subsidy to make prescription drugs more affordable.

As the largest province in Canada, Ontario sets the bar for the rest of the country - so if this works, other provinces are likely to implement similar deals. Naturally, pharmacists and drugstores don't like this.

In response, Ontario's major drugstore chains threatened to cut services. Shoppers Drug Mart, by far Ontario's largest, made good on those threats even before Ontario's plan was implemented. They cut hours, laid off staff and, most outrageously, started charging $8.00 per prescription for delivery.

Charging for delivery disproportionately affects seniors and people with disabilities, especially in suburban and rural areas where public transit is very limited. Imagine being an elderly person with limited mobility living on an income where every dollar must be watched and pinched. That describes thousands, tens of thousands, who knows how many Ontarians. What if you need five prescriptions delivered? Can you afford an extra $40 in fees? Or will you have to spend potentially hours getting to and from the drugstore? I'm not kidding about hours. Buses run very infrequently in rural areas. And does the bus stop near the store? What if health and energy levels make travel impossible?

SDM has no problem using its customers as political pawns in their campaign against the provincial government: they targeted the London, Ontario riding of Deb Matthews, Ontario's Minister of Health, thus blatantly exposing their claims of financial hardship.

Financial hardship? SDM's profits over the last three years increased from $300 million to $585 million! But they are clearly more concerned with doling out profits to shareholders than services to customers.

* * * *

I wrote to SDM, telling them we would stop using them. But where would we go?

We already use a small, independent pharmacy for our prescription drugs, but we have been buying all our personal care and non-prescription drug drugstore products from SDM - and collecting "Optimum" points - since moving here. I very much wanted to take my business elsewhere, but how? SDM is omnipresent where we live. Wal-Mart is out of the question; I've been boycotting them for more than a decade. Someone suggested Costco, but there is only one Costco in Mississauga, and it's not convenient, and I would prefer not to roam the aisles of an airplane-hangar-sized warehouse to pick up shampoo. Small drugstores have poor selection and high prices.

Allan suggested we try Loblaws, where we already shop for groceries. As our principal food shopper, he assured me that Loblaws' drugstore section is very large, and thought we should give it a try.

So I embarked on a little project. I roamed around SDM with my notebook, jotting down prices for each product we use. Then I created a spreadsheet listing each item - the exact brand and all the particulars, or if we use the SDM generic brand, noting that - and each price. Allan took the chart to Loblaws next time he went shopping, and filled in their prices for the same items. I was amazed.

Everything is less expensive at Loblaws. Some items, like our preferred shampoo and deodorant, were $1.50 and $2.00 less. Some items, like generic allergy medicine, were half price - the difference between $25.49 for 36 tablets and $24.99 for 72! The only time SDM prices were better than Loblaws was on specially marked-down items. But we never time our shopping with store specials, we just buy things when we need them.

We've been collecting Optimum points from SDM for many years, and have cashed them in for $20, $30, $50 or more off purchases. I've written before about how I am a total sucker for these loyalty-reward schemes. I try not to sign up for them, because once I do, I allow them to control my purchases to a ridiculous degree. But SDM's Optimum plan seemed like such a good idea. They have what I need and I'm buying those items anyway; why not earn points towards future discounts?

Now I see what I probably should have realized all along: that I am paying extra for every item, and SDM is refunding the difference - if that - when I cash in my points. It's much better to buy the same item for less, while we're already at Loblaws for our grocery shopping. Plus we collect points at Loblaws, too.

* * * *

While I was chewing this over, I received a letter from SDM in reply to my letter saying I was taking my business elsewhere. Their response, of course, goes over the same company line about how Professional Allowances are needed to fund "extra services," and how dangerous the provincial cuts are, and so on. I expected all that, but when they appeal to me to join their cause, to visit their PR website and contact Deb Matthews to oppose the pricing changes, they only increased my resolve.

This week I will cash in my Optimum points one last time. I have $85 in free stuff coming to me and I am going to collect.

After that, adios Shoppers Drug Mart!

18 comments:

Stephanie said...

I have been 'leary' of SDM since they bought out the South-Western-Ontario chain the Big V (boooo).

Their prices have always been a major issue then I learned that each store has the right to set their own prices on the vast majority of their stock while honouring flyers and private label price points. This way they more than make up for the extended hours they may offer (the 24 hour stores being the most pricey of course).

L-girl said...

(the 24 hour stores being the most pricey of course).

I never would have realized that! The SDM most convenient to us is 24 hours.

What does "private label price points" mean?

johngoldfine said...

The logic of the $8 per prescription means that the sickest people subsidize deliveries for the healthier!

You'd think that at least there'd be a sliding scale for delivery fees based on the price of the drug--the more expensive the drug, the less the fee.

But a flat rate for each prescription sounds like, as you say, just part of an elaborate extortion scheme to force the roll back of the price cuts.

redsock said...

The idea that SDM is charging $8 if the delivery guy carries one little bottle of pills to your front door and $16 if he carries two little bottles is fucking outrageous.

Is the weight of 30 (or 40 or 60) additional capsules weighing the car down so much that additional fuel is needed to make the car run?

FU, SDM!

Stephanie said...

private label price points = when a retail chain contracts a private 'house' label with the manufacturer. Usually made available at a lessor price. Sorry retail speak from bygone days.

How much is Loblaws dispensing fee (the $8 charge you are discussing from SDN)??

Stephanie said...

At SDM the 'Life' products are 'private label.

L-girl said...

I can't find my original source for the per-prescription fee. I had one that was reputable, but now I can't find it. Still looking.

Obviously if they have to charge for delivery, it should be per delivery, not per item.

But does company that cleared $585 million in profit last year need to?

L-girl said...

How much is Loblaws dispensing fee (the $8 charge you are discussing from SDN)??

I don't know how much Lobloaws' dispensing fee is. We're not switching our Rx's there, so I didn't check. We're staying with the little indie pharmacy in Port Credit, near where we used to live.

The $8 charge we're talking about is SDM's new delivery charge in certain areas. In some areas it's $5 and in some it is still free, but slated to change.

At SDM the 'Life' products are 'private label.

Oh, I see. I call that "store brand". That's what I meant in this post, comparing SDM's own brand (Life) to Loblaw's own brand (Exact) on allergy meds, aceteminophen (probably spelled wrong) and other things we use the store brand. Loblaws was way cheaper on every single thing.

L-girl said...

Someone made this lovely comparison chart (pdf) of dispensing fees in the GTA. I linked to it on the older SDM post, too. You can see how SDM is consistently among the highest.

L-girl said...

Loblaws' pharmacy is called "the Drugstore Pharmacy", if you want to search that chart. It looks like there's a big range depending on location, from 7.49 to 10.99 (maybe more, I didn't do an exhaustive search).

Stephanie said...

Might be different elsewhere but in Ontario you pay a dispensing fee at all pharmacies on each and every prescription filled.

This has been in place for about 15 years maybe more?? In any case the chaeapest fees are places like the no frills groceries like 'Food Basics' or Zellers or Costco often as little as $2-4 per.

My folks are seniors with very little pension (Govt only) and my Mum (who has plenty of health issues including having survived Colon Cancer) wouldn't go anywhere else but Zellers (and they started the whole point system in the retail biz in Canada).

L-girl said...

I think we're talking about two different things here. We know about the dispensing fee. I discuss that in the earlier post, linked above.

We were discussing a charge for delivering to seniors' homes, previously free, now charged for.

L-girl said...

Zellers = HBC

Stephanie said...

Sorry the new comments are coming only after long pauses so I wrote my last comment about the dispensing fees without having seen any of your more recent comments.

L-girl said...

Comments have been screwed up in Blogger. On the main page of this blog, this post shows up as zero comments.

Last night comments stopped working in the middle of our gamethread! Shocking! :)

Stephanie said...

Okay so it isn't the lousy signal here.

I had notice the 0 comments on the post and hadn't realised until much later that there were infact comments posted. :(

Kim_in_TO said...

I am a meticulous comparison shopper when it comes to big-ticket items, but for everyday groceries, I rarely know what prices should be. I am fairly loyal to stores that I know and like, and as most SDMs are big, clean, and well-stocked, that's where I get most of my drugstore items. It's occurred to me in the past that I really should do a comparison of drug store prices vs. those at supermarkets, but I've never gotten around to it.

Recently, I saw a small tube of Tylenol at the checkout of Metro. It occurred to me that I really should carry one of those in my knapsack. But rather than get sucked into the impulse buy (which is the point of those displays at the checkout), I thought I'd wait and get it at SDM, where I was sure it would be cheaper.

Surprise! The $2.99 tube at Metro was $4.50 at SDM. I'm now going to be checking out prices on regular items a lot more carefully, probably shifting a lot of my shopping to the supermarket, and giving my business to smaller, local pharmacies.

L-girl said...

Yeah, it's funny, I am not a comparison shopper about anything. I grew up in a home where "getting the best deal" was The Holy Grail, and as an adult decided that my time and effort are more important than any money I might save comparison-shopping. I don't go out of my way to spend more money if I don't have to, but if I know what I want, I make very little or no effort to compare prices. This makes me different than most Canadians I know, but I don't care. :)

So I never did anything like this before! It's very eye-opening. And considering we already shop at Loblaws at least once a week, sometimes more, this will actually be more convenient and time saving.