There has been a proliferation in recent years of “dollar stores,” stores where many if not all items are one dollar. It would logically follow that shopping there instead of at a normal retail store would save money, but not as much as one might think.
Lowest cost retailers explode in popularity
Time magazine reported in January that the fastest-growing retail sector was “dollar stores,” discount retailers selling sundry and grocery items for $1, or at least many items costing that much and offering others at steep discounts. The top four dollar stores, Dollar General, Dollar Tree Family Dollar and 99 Cents Only, now outnumber major drugstore chains like Walgreens and Rite Aid by 21,500 locations to 19,700.
The appeal is obvious; items is available for less money than at a regular store, or so it would seem. However, according to a recent blog post on the Houston Chronicle, also cited on The Consumerist, it depends on what one is shopping for.
Amanda Grossman of the Houston Chronicle did a comparison test to see if people really did save money at dollar stores. She compared items from a 99 Cent Store and Family Dollar, two popular discount retailers, and Walmart, checking price and price per unit. She found dollar stores did save money overall, but not on all items.
For instance, Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner spray was 99 cents for a 16-ounce can at the 99 Cent Store, $2 for 24 ounces at Family Dollar and $1.97 for a 24-ounce can at Walmart. The 99 Cent Store had the cheapest price per ounce, at 6.1 cents per ounce, compared to 8.2 cents per ounce and 8.3 cents per ounce at Walmart and Family Dollar, respectively. A jar of sweet red peppers was $1 at the 99 Cents Store for a 14.5-ounce jar, compared to $1.25 for 8.3 ounces at Family Dollar and $2.29 at Walmart. In other examples, Family Dollar had better prices.
However, Walmart had the cheaper price on Heft Easy Flaps 13-gallon trash bags, which were $6.99 for 80 at Walmart, compared to $5.50 for 58 at the 99 Cent Store and not available at Family Dollar. Walmart’s cost per unit was 8.7 cents per bag, compared to 9.5 cents per bag at the 99 Cent Store.
Some things cheaper for a reason
Numerous websites have similar dollar store comparisons, such as LenPenzo.com, a popular personal finance blog. A LenPenzo comparison similarly found some things were cheaper, but others were more expensive at dollar stores, such as chili powder, which was half as expensive at Walmart.
Also, according to Time magazine, some things are cheap for a reason. Dollar store batteries, for instance, use different chemicals than alkali batteries like Energizer and Duracell and lose charge much more rapidly. Electronics at dollar stores aren’t often certified by Underwriters Laboratories, a leading safety certification company for electronics. According to Forbes, Consumer Reports testing has found vitamins, medication and toothpaste to have counterfeit, if not toxic, ingredients, so consumers would do well to spend more but be safe for those items.