Do you get a deal at the dollar stores?

A local drug store went out of business last year leaving a big empty box in our neighborhood. Neighbors hoped that the space would be filled with a health food store—even going as far as creating a Facebook group to promote the idea. But alas, a new sign finally went up last week announcing that we are getting a new dollar store. This will be the third dollar store on a 1-mile stretch of road.

According to, dollar stores have survived the recession far better than other stores. In fact, many are even hiring (and obviously building new stores). In an economy where every dollar counts, stores that promote inexpensive options are attractive to many shoppers. According a study by the Nielsen Company, dollar store spending among high and middle income shoppers increased significantly in 2008.

I have nothing against saving money, but I do wonder if having a dollar store on every block is necessary. I mean, what exactly are we getting for our dollar? points out that dollar store inventory “consists of overstocks, odd lots, buyouts and some inventory purchased from low cost Mexican and Chinese exporters.” Consumer Reports blogger Tod Marks went so far as to state that dollar stores are “notorious for selling cheaply made items that may not meet safety standards, from lead-laden toys to unsafe extension cords to poorly made batteries that leak.”

While there are a number of things to avoid at the dollar stores, not everything at the dollar stores is life threatening. In fact, there are several things that you might consider buying at a dollar store.

However, don’t just assume that the dollar store's prices are better than the prices at other stores. Even if you do find safe, good quality items at the dollar store, you still want to comparison shop. Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine mystery shoppers compared prices of common items found at dollar stores with the prices of similar items found at supermarkets, drug, and discount stores. The results were mixed. Many items including envelopes, brown paper bags, and birthday candles cost the same at the dollar stores as they did at the other retailers. A few items cost less at the dollar store, including wrapping paper (though I generally find their selection to be poor).

My own mini mystery shopping experience revealed a few things. First, not everythin g at every dollar store is a dollar. Second, the two dollar stores I visited didn’t have what I really needed to buy that day (Bactine and Mitchum deodorant). Instead, I bought things that everyone needs: toilet paper, garbage bags, saran wrap, and aluminum foil.  Then, I went to the discount superstore to compare prices.

Here’s how the dollar store fared against the superstore.

Suprised by the similarity? I have to admit that I was. I am certain that I used up more than 10 cents worth of gas and time having to visit two stores to get what I really needed. Plus, I am afraid that if I had more time, I would have picked up some not-so-needed items because they were "only" a dollar. So, there are four main reasons I am going to buck the trend and stay away from dollar stores in the future. 

1. They do not offer many of the products I want or need.
2. I can't trust myself not to waste money.
3. I like things to be inexpensive, but not cheap.
4. I am not convinced of the financial benefit.

What do you think of dollar store shopping?


Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.