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Consumer Reports: Dollar Stores

9:37 AM, Jul 13, 2012   |    comments
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ShopSmart Scores Deep Discounts on Brand-Name Products at Dollar Stores

What to buy and what to avoid-plus overall safety of dollar store inventory improves

YONKERS, NY - Dollar stores are no longer dusty mazes of shelves filled with shoddy products from off-brands. In fact, consumers can find many brand name products-particularly grocery items-at big bargains in dollar stores. The September 2012 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, reveals how much shoppers can save on name brand and private-label items at dollar stores, plus which products actually cost more.
"Dollar stores are no longer the junky outlets they used to be and there are big savings to be had-even on brand name products," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart.
According to a new ShopSmart poll, 76 pecent of women said they shopped at a dollar store in the past year and three out of four of them said they were hitting these retailers more often than they used to. One of the biggest reasons dollar stores have gone mainstream is the wide selection of national brands.
At Dollar General, the largest of the big three chains, aisles are stocked with brands like Crayola, Folgers, Hanes, Huggies, and Tide. At Family Dollar look for L'Oreal, Maybelline, Nabisco, and Pepsi. And at Dollar Tree you can buy Ajax, Dial Soap, Reynolds Wrap, Scope and Softsoap, among other brands.
Shopsmart sent secret shoppers and shopping experts out across the country on dozens of shopping trips to mostly big-chain dollar stores like Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree.

Here's what they found:
• Not every product costs a dollar. Most dollar stores sell stuff at a variety of prices. At Dollar General about 25 percent of the items are $1 or less. Most items cost less than $10. But you'll find exceptions, often on specialty or seasonal goods, like an $85 inflatable swimming pool or $35 fan.

• They'll save you a bundle. Shopsmart compared prices on 38 items including food, cleaning supplies, paper products, drinks and other everyday staples and found that Dollar General had the lowest prices on many items.

• You can shop online. All of the big dollar-store chains have a retail website, but many products are sold by the case only. Ordering large quantities of products you use regularly, such as toilet paper, can be an economical way to stock up.

• Consider private-label or store brands. Store brands are great bargains, but no retailers beat dollar stores when it comes to these low-budget alternatives, according to Shopsmart's price scan. Buying a dollar store's private-label brand can save shoppers 29 percent on average over national store brands-a better deal than the 25 and 15 percent you can save on store brands from Walmart and Target respectively.

• Avoid off-brand vitamins and electrical products. In 2009, Shopsmart found lots of worrisome products on dollar store shelves including expired infant gas-relief drops, lighters that looked like toys, tiki torches that caught fire. Today, all four dollar store chains have safety information and recalls on their websites. And even though some stores sell closeouts, that doesn't necessarily mean they are of inferior quality. Dollar General and Family Dollar sell only first-run products, most purchased directly from the manufacturers. That said, Shopsmart doesn't recommend buying off-brand vitamins from dollar stores. Also, watch out for electrical products without UL labels, or with fake ones, vouching for their safety.

• Check expiration dates on food and medication. Be sure to check the date when buying food or medication in a dollar store to make sure the product hasn't expired. Items with expiration dates such as perishable and frozen foods, topped ShopSmart's poll respondents' list of things that they never buy at a dollar store.
 

ShopSmart is available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org

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