How to spot the best bargains in dollar
stores. Plus what never to buy there. You
won’t believe the unsafe stuff we found!
illustrations: laura ljungkvist32 consumer reports shopsmart
subscribe now at ShopSmartmag.org september 2009 33
t’s just a buck! Yes, that toilet
plunger and those dinner
plates over there and that
package of batteries by the
register. Even if everything
isn’t a buck—these days on average
77 percent of the items in dollar stores
cost more—it’s easy to get into a
bargain-hunting frenzy and go
overboard in those mini flea markets
of the strip mall.
That probably explains why these
retailers are hiring workers and
building new stores while others are
suffering their worst downturn in
more than 20 years.
In this economy, even higher-
income shoppers are searching dollar
stores for bargains. So we wondered:
Do you always save there? To find
out, our mystery shoppers fanned out
across the country to compare the
prices of 11 household items. They
bought products at dollar stores and
then looked for comparable generic
or store brands in supermarkets,
drugstores, and discount stores such
as Walmart and Target. Shoppers
visited nearly 100 stores. Then we did
side-by-side comparisons of unit
prices, the best way to measure value.
See the table below for our results.
We didn’t test the quality of the
products, but dollar stores are
notorious for selling cheaply made
items. The “heavy duty” aluminum
foil we bought at one store, for
example, tore easily and was thinner
than the supermarket store brand we
bought, though it was less expensive.
Foil that tears when you use it might
not be a big deal but unsafe products
are, and we found plenty of those
when we sent our safety czar, Donald
Mays, to a couple of local dollar
stores. Turn to page 36 for a look at
the items we picked up plus advice on
what never to buy in those stores.
But first check out what our mystery
shoppers found and learn how you can
be a smart dollar-store shopper.