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Deals or duds? Some discounts may be too good to be true at dollar stores

Consumer experts say you can find poor products at any retailer, but some might not be worth the discounts.

CLEVELAND — Whether it's Dollar General, Dollar Tree or its sister store Family Dollar, these just-a-buck stores have a cult following.

Mary Peskar-Cox is an avid discount store shopper. "If we're looking for something in particular, then I'll hit three or four on the way home," she said. She even founded a Facebook group called Dollar Tree Dames, because she loves the deals so much. "Sometimes they have clearance, so you can get things for a quarter or 50 cents."

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But not everyone's sold on the discounts. According to food website Mashed. "While you're bound to find great deals at pretty much any dollar store, you'll also find yourself getting totally scammed," Mashed asserts, citing investigations from multiple consumer groups. 

Dr. Ayalla Ruvio is a marketing professor at Michigan State University who specializes in consumer behavior. She says imperfect items are not unique to stores like Dollar Tree and Dollar General. "Is every item in their store good for consumers? Probably not," Ruvio says. "But guess what? That's the same situation with Walmart and Target and Bloomingdales. It does not matter."

Some of the most targeted items are things like electronics and batteries, with claims that some products have fake or missing UL safety labels, or that their batteries can leak. Peskar-Cox says she's never had an issue with either.

"If I'm buying Dollar Tree batteries, I am not expecting them to last very long," she said. "So the majority of the time I'm buying them because I need them in a pinch."

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Toys have been another target for consumer groups. According to some watchdog groups, many break, causing choking hazards, or have toxins. Which is why Peskar-Cox says she sticks to brand names.

Toxicity has also been an issue with some of their vitamins or over the counter medicines, coming from unsafe factories in China, according to the FDA. Again the issue, Dr. Ruvio says, isn't just with discount stores.

"Did you know that 95 percent of the vitamin C that is being sold in the U.S. is actually manufactured in China," she asks. "Less than 2 percent are regulated by the FDA."

Finally, while not a danger, size does seem to matter here. While many of the food products are cheaper, it's because some packages are not as big as in the supermarket.

"No, it's not, honestly" Peskar-Cox says, "but honestly you can find family size boxes of Post cereals there, and if you have a coupon, that big family size box of cereal now went down to 75 cents or 60 cents, depending on your coupons."

In the end, it all seems to come down to expectations.

"Like any other store or like any other place we go to, we have to do our due diligence and we have to do our research," Ruvio says. "Not everything in the dollar store is a bargain."

In response to our story, we received the following statements from Dollar Tree and its sister company Family Dollar, as well as one from Dollar General:

Dollar Tree Statement:

For 35 years, Dollar Tree has maintained the fixed price point of $1.00 on predominantly all of its products. It is a concept that our growing base of loyal customers love and respect. In fact, in a 2019 survey by Morning Consult, Dollar Tree was ranked the #9 Most Loved Brand in America. Our Dollar Tree and Family Dollar brands will continue to provide convenient store locations and will strive to exceed our customers’ expectations for value. In the current environment, value and convenience are more important than ever, and we want to be “part of the solution” for millions of households across the country.

Dollar General Statement:

Dollar General comprehensively disagrees with the premise and claims raised in the Mashed article, which was published in November 2020. Misleading claims are raised throughout the piece, and Dollar General was not contacted by Mashed to respond to the assumptions made.

Respectfully, we do not believe that it is appropriate to paint all stores within the “dollar store” sector with such a broad brush, as all “dollar stores” are not alike (or even dollar stores in the strict sense of the phrase).

In keeping with our mission of Serving Others, DG is committed to serving our customers and their families by providing safe, quality products that either meet or exceed applicable safety guidelines. Our suppliers are also expected to conduct appropriate testing to ensure compliance with not only the applicable legal or regulatory safety requirements, but also our own standards and customers’ expectations. Finally, we have a number of processes in place to ensure our products are quality, and vendors are required to adhere to our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, as well as our workplace conditions expectations.

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