By Consumer Reports
Dollar stores are growing while other retailers suffer their worst downturn in more than 20 years, but are all those one dollar items really a steal?
ShopSmart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports, recently sent its mystery shoppers across the country to compare the prices of household items at dollar stores, supermarkets, drugstores and discount stores. The verdict: prices at dollar stores were either the cheapest or among the cheapest for many items, but the products are not always safe.
“It’s easy to get into a bargain-hunting frenzy and go overboard at dollar stores,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor in chief of ShopSmart. “But products that cost a dollar are not necessarily a bargain and — more importantly — they are not always safe.”
ShopSmart discovered surprising things you might not know about dollar stores and what items you should never buy at the dollar store.
What to buy at the dollar store
Based on the unit price, these items are steals at the dollar store.
— Heavy-duty aluminum foil: At 3 cents per square foot, the dollar store can’t be beat on price.
— Gift wrap: Dollar stores had the cheapest price at 2 cents per square foot versus 17 cents at one grocery store. But skip the tissue paper. It’s more expensive at dollar stores.
— Cotton rounds: For something used everyday to remove makeup, the savings could really add up over time.
— Party supplies: Gift bags, ribbon, greeting cards, decorations and balloons are all great buys.
Hit or miss at the dollar store
These items tend to be similarly priced at the dollar store and other retail locations.
— Birthday candles: Some dollar stores had the cheapest price while others had the highest.
— Brown paper bags: Dollar stores tied with most other stores except CVS, which charged more.
— Composition notebooks: Find these for 1 cent per page at dollar, discount and grocery stores.
— 16-ounce plastic cups: Prices at dollar stores were among the cheapest at 5 cents per cup, but these cups could be found for a good price elsewhere.
— Napkins: At half a cent per napkin, they are cheap at many stores.
— Security envelopes: Most stores sold a box of 40 for a dollar, so buy these anyplace except CVS which charges 6 cents per envelope.
— Foam plates: 8- or 9-inch foam places could be found for about 3 cents a plate.
What to avoid at the dollar store SUBHEAD
ShopSmart tested these items in their labs and found many of them fell short of safety standards.
— Dangers to kids: Even with warning labels, party favors and toys with small parts should be avoided as they can become lodged in a child’s throat.
— Fire hazards: Skip tiki torches (they can catch on fire) and utility lighters (even if they have a “child-proof” latch). Novelty lighters can also be a hazard if they are mistaken as a toy.
— Electrical products: Extension cords, lamps and other items may have fake UL labels vouching for their safety.
— Medication: Aspirin and other meds can be on shelves long past their expiration date.
— Vitamins: Some dollar store multivitamins do not have the amount of nutrients listed on the label.
— Kids’ jewelry: Older products containing high lead content might still be sold in dollar stores, even though they were recalled in recent years.
By Consumer Reports