Surprise #4: Safety should be less of an issue than in the past. We took our safety expert shopping at a local dollar store in 2009 and found lots of worrisome products on the shelves: expired infant gas-relief drops, bubble liquid packaged in what looked like a soda bottle, lighters that looked like toys, tiki torches that caught fire (not just the part that’s supposed to), and a bunch of kids’ products with parts small enough to choke on. Our survey found that Americans still don’t fully trust the quality or safety of some dollar-store products. Almost 40 percent of shoppers who said they’d never purchase electronics items at a dollar store told us that it was because of safety concerns.
That image is what today’s big chains are looking to shake. All four have safety info and recalls on their websites. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar track recalls and post notices on their sites. Go to dollargeneral.com and familydollar. com and click on “Product Recalls” at the bottom of the home page to see the latest ones. At dollartree.com, click on “Recall Information.” At 99Only.com, click on “About Us” and then “Product Safety” for recalls links and other safety info.
Sure, some stores sell closeouts, which helps keep prices so low, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re of inferior quality. But Dollar General and Family Dollar sell only first-run products, most purchased directly from manufacturers. “We take our quality very seriously," Bloom says. "We’re not buying from the trunk of a car.”
That said, we still don’t recommend buying off-brand vitamins from these stores. When we tested multivitamins we found that some didn’t have the amount of nutrients listed on the label. Also watch out for electrical products without UL labels, or with fake ones, vouching for their safety. (Undersized wiring or other substandard components can overheat and cause a fire.) Always look for an expiration date on medication and food. And if you’re buying toys or party favors for small children, make sure they pass the toilet-paper-tube test: If they fit through the tube, they can get caught in a child’s throat and cause choking.
Surprise #5: You can get in and out in 10 minutes, usually. You might sometimes hit a big line or get sidetracked by cheap goodies you don’t really need, but the idea is that these “small-box retailers” can be convenient places for midweek fill-ins on your way home from work, replacing trips to the supermarket, drugstore, or convenience store.
Dollar stores probably won’t do for your big weekly grocery shop, but if you want to pop in to pick up some soap, a highlighter for your kid’s school project, and some milk, you might just get in and out in 10 minutes. Other retailers are recognizing the appeal of a faster stop. Walmart is testing its own smaller stores, called Walmart Express, which could just be the best of both worlds, based on our price scan.