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.

* * * *

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!

No comments: