My mom always told me to steer clear of the dollar stores, and that was back when there weren’t many of them and they were not really a player in the grocery business. Wow, has that changed in the 21st century! In the past several years alone, the number of shoppers in these stores has grown by 500%. Dollar stores have added plenty of food items from milk to eggs, cereals to brand-named package goods, and the chains have grown to be household names in every neighborhood.
More shoppers mean manufacturers are now selling directly to dollar stores, including companies like General Mills and trendy start-up companies like Hampton Creek. They’re even becoming suppliers to the stores’ own “private label” (store brand) products.
But the question remains…is it a good idea to shop at dollar stores?
Here’s some important points to remember when shopping at dollar stores:
- NOT everything is a bargain! Remember that an item’s real cost is determined by unit pricing. Supermarkets still have the best in that area overall, but smaller packaging at lower costs are really appealing to older shoppers and small households. They may be perfect for one or two member households. Remember to check the unit prices, compare to the supermarkets, and purchase higher unit prices only as a fill-in, immediate need rather than stocking up regularly.
- Don’t get caught up in the “bargain mentality”. Psychologists warn that more impulse buying occurs when you believe everything is cheap.
- Make a list and stick to it. Use categories and look through the shelves to find those particular items you really need, like cleaning supplies or cereals.
- Read the labels. To insure quality, check the content labels. To lower costs, some manufacturers use fillers and additives rather than the ingredients you’re expecting.
- Check the expiration dates. Many items are closeouts and overstocks and despite quick turnover, they may be close to expiration. Don’t stock up on those, and check for shop-worn, dented or old packaging.
- Ask about coupons. In past years, most dollar stores didn’t accept them because they prided themselves on their already low prices. That’s starting to change and some stores now accept them. Ask first to be sure.
- Try a single item first. If you’re concerned about the quality, don’t buy a quantity. Purchase a single item and try it at home first so you can decide if you like it.
- Some non-food items are worth the trip. Bargains on greeting cards, wrapping paper or gift bags, paper goods and party supplies are plentiful at some stores. Know your prices and only buy items you really need to get the best values.
So my answer is that the dollar store is good to shop for immediate needs or real bargains only. Routine shopping trips should be saved for the supermarket.
Do you shop at the dollar store? Why or why not?