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Got a buck? Look what you can buy at a dollar store

  • Consumer Reports sent secret shoppers to find the best deals available at dollar stores
  • Dollar-store chains revamped their image and now carry a lot more products
Got a buck? Look what you can buy at a dollar store

If you thought you were too chic to shop at dollar stores, well it may be time for a reality check. Dollar stores definitely aren’t what they used to be and even hoity-toity shoppers are now venturing into these new and improved discount emporiums. And let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how much you make, no one out there is too cool to save a buck. Actually these days, it seems like the more you save, the cooler you are.

When you think of dollar stores, you could actually be thinking of two very different types of places. Despite the names, stores like Dollar General and Family Dollar aren’t true “dollar stores,” they just have the word dollar in their name. They actually sell products at a variety of prices. In fact, their goal is to beat out the lowest market prices available at other discounters, like Walmart. True dollar stores actually do sell everything for $1, or 99 cents, like the store 99 Cents Only. And even though these two types of stores can sometimes cater to different markets, they’ve both boosted their image and have created a whole new experience for shoppers looking to save.

HLN Money Expert Clark Howard is probably the biggest fan out there of dollar stores. And even though he’s a bit biased, he encourages people who are looking to save a few bucks to at least try out a dollar-store chain and see what they can find.

And to prove it to you, Consumer Reports sent its secret shoppers and shopping experts out to different dollar stores, including the big chains like Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, and they found a couple of surprises that could help save you a whole lot of money.

Dollar stores sell name-brand products

Consumer Reports says one of the biggest reasons shoppers have drifted back toward dollar stores is the wide selection of national name brands. Michael Bloom, president and CEO of Family Dollar, told Consumer Reports, “In the past, our customer could not complete her shop when she was in our stores. So we were not relevant.” Dollar stores have beefed up shelves with brand-names products, especially in the grocery aisles, to compete with supermarkets and big discount retailers like Target and Walmart.

Here are few brands the Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers found:

  • Dollar General – Crayola, Folgers, Hanes, Hefty, Huggies, and Tide.
  • Family Dollar – L’Oréal, Maybelline, Nabisco, and Pepsi.
  • Dollar Tree – Ajax, Dial Soap, Reynolds Wrap, Scope, and Softsoap, among other big brands.
  • 99¢ Only – Gourmet and organic-food sections, as well as personal-care, pet, and household products from Ajax, Alpo, Colgate, Irish Spring, Whiskas, and other brands.

Dollar stores are attracting upscale shoppers

According to Dollar General data, its biggest growing group of customers includes people who make more than $70,000 a year, but the store has seen an increase in shoppes from all economic levels. The store’s data found that 82% of people making less than $40,000 a year shop at dollar stores, and at the same time, 68% of people making $75,000 or more a year have also shopped at dollar stores. All the dollar-store chains have become more popular among more groups of people. “The economy has forced people into our store,” said Bloom, who went to Family Dollar from drugstore giant CVS. “Now we have to keep them.”

In an effort to keep customers, the big chain dollar stores have created their own private-label brands. Consumer Reports found that buying these store brands is one of the best ways to save and you can save nearly 30% over buying national brands. And in product tests, they’ve found that these store brands do just as well – sometimes even better – than big national name brands.

The two biggest dollar-store chains now have private labels competing with brands belonging to Walmart, Costco and Target. Dollar General offers Clover Valley packaged foods and a new line of DG products with more than 1,500 items in all. The new line includes DG Baby diapers and wipes, DG Body personal-care items, DG Home house ware, DG Office supplies for home and school, and Everpet pet food. Family Dollar now sells a Family Gourmet store-brand line that includes prepackaged meals and other food products.

Best overall deals

Consumer Reports found that buying store brands at dollar stores can save you more than store brands at any other discount retailers like Walmart and Target. In fact, private-label products at Dollar General and Family Dollar turned out to be the best bargains out there.  And Consumer Reports says that over the years, its taste testers have rated many store-brand foods and drinks just as good or even better than name brands. So if you’re willing to try them, you could save a lot.

And when it comes to groceries, Consumer Reports found that supermarkets are by far the most expensive. That also goes for a whole list of items including food, cleaning products, paper products, drinks and other daily staples.  Who has the lowest prices? Walmart is still winning with the lowest price tag on a lot products, but Dollar General came close. Consumer Reports also found that Dollar General had better prices overall than its competitor Family Dollar.

Most dollar-store chains also have retail websites. Most of them sell items in bulk, but it's a great way to save on everyday products and products that'll last for a while!

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