Big box discount retailers and so-called dollar stores (which are known for deep discounts but do price some items at more than $1), have been battling for years.Target Corp., Wal-Mart and even Walgreen have experimented with their own take on the dollar format.
With so many players slugging it out for customers, it’s hard to know where to find the best deals. MarketWatch spoke to retail experts, who advised choosing wisely on everything from vitamins to spatulas and paper towels and sunglasses.
“When I shop at the dollar store, I stick to greeting cards, party supplies, movie snacks, puzzle books and seasonal décor,” says Kendal Perez, blogger for HassleFreeSavings.com. Light artificial maple syrup is a good buy, adds Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. Bleach toilet tablets, alas, were hit and miss, he adds. When it comes to extension cords or power strips, always check for the “UL” international safety certification label, Perez says, while zinc-carbon heavy duty batteries don’t always have as much stored energy as name-brand or lithium batteries.
“There are often coupons available for the dollar store,” says Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert with Kinoli, an online marketing firm based in Windsor, Colo. Check out the company’s own websites and apps such as CouponSherpa.com’s free mobile coupon app for online deals, she says. But dollar stores often don’t stock the best-known brands and some items need close inspection.
Here are five other items that may not be the best choice at a dollar store:
“Avoid bath towels,” says Brent Shelton, spokesman for deal site FatWallet.com. The brands in the discount stores tend to fade, shrink and curl faster than higher priced towels, he says. “Even the crazy towel deals from the big box retailers on Black Friday are a risk for getting quality towels,” he says. “Hold out for January White Sales when stores like Macy’s move quality inventory at discount prices. In fact, a recent survey by TheSweetHome.com rated the 1888 Mills Luxury cotton bath towel ($19.99 on Amazon.com) as No. 1 out of 10 tested based on price, drying time, absorbency and durability, and rated WestPoint Home’s Lasting Color No. 1 in the budget category ($5.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond).
A lot of toys that end up on shelves at dollar stores are from the last season or toys that didn’t sell so well in places like Toys “R” Us, says Christopher Byrne, content director of TimeToPlayMag.com. Water blasters from lesser known brands may be prone to leaking, lose power and are frustrating to play with, he says. After testing bubble solutions, he recommends two brands — Gazillion Bubbles and Imperial’s Miracle Super Bubbles. Dollar stores do have some good deals and often some decent quality stuff from established brands, he says, “but if you’re buying at a dollar store, your expectations should be in line with what you’re spending. Definitely stock up on small toys that are good for birthday party favors.” Be careful when buying toys anywhere, especially if it’s a brand or type you don’t recognize. They could be poor quality or pose safety hazards.