How dollar stores score the highest profit margins

Originally published at: How dollar stores score the highest profit margins | Boing Boing


While it is indeed a scam of sorts, we must also recognize that convenience itself has value as well as take care not to “blame the victim.” My personally-relatable anecdote is, when I was a college intern, one of the senior designers at the firm I was working scolded me about my habit of buying cheap (in every sense of the word—admittedly even at the time) shoes from K-mart and replacing them every few months (I walked everywhere), rather than saving up for good quality shoes, not bothering to even try to conceive the enormous privilege he was betraying.


I do wish that schools would require personal finance as a year long class around junior year in high school and teach the basics of this stuff. Being poor is really expensive and I wish folks were better armed to make basic economic decisions.


Ahhh, Sam Vimes’ Boots Theory of Economic Injustice.


The pricing and quality of Dollar Tree is TERRIBLE when compared to most normal goods.

But if you are traveling, their pricing is a bargain when compared to travel sizes at Target/Amazon/DrugStores. If you are in a vacation rental and need a random household product that you don’t need to last more than a week or two, you can get it for $1 from them vs $5-10 at Amazon or Target.

The one thing I very much dislike about this chain hasn’t been covered here though. They are notorious for balancing their budget and executive bonuses on the backs of their employees. In order to make their performance look good, towards the end of a financial quarter they will often suddenly shut down all stores in a region a few hours earlier each day. They cut down the hours of their low paid staff - who will often have to quit and find more stable employment. It’s pretty horrible.


And, of course, there’s this article from ProPublica from last year:

The Gun Violence Archive, a website that uses local news reports and law enforcement sources to tally crimes involving firearms, lists more than 200 violent incidents involving guns at Family Dollar or Dollar General stores since the start of 2017, nearly 50 of which resulted in deaths. The incidents include carjackings in the parking lot, drug deals gone bad and altercations inside stores. But a large number involve armed robberies in which workers or customers have been shot.

The chains’ owners have done little to maintain order in the stores, which tend to be thinly staffed and exist in a state of physical disarray. In the 1970s, criminologists such as Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson argued that rising crime could be partly explained by changes in the social environment that lowered the risk of getting caught. That theory gained increasing acceptance in the decades that followed. “The likelihood of a crime occurring depends on three elements: a motivated offender, a vulnerable victim, and the absence of a capable guardian,” the sociologist Patrick Sharkey wrote, in “Uneasy Peace,” from 2018.


Yeah, the employee treatment issue is much more at play in my book. Also admittedly there are leprechauns and magic drugs, but the Southie Dollar Tree’s toxic work conditions play a big part in the plot.


Can we just copy and paste our discussion from over there here too?

I think the only point I would like to reiterate from last week is…

If you don’t know the difference between Dollar Tree and Dollar General, you are too ignorant on the subject to even have an opinion on the subject. This is like assuming Walmart and Wal Drug are the same store because they both have the word “Wal” in the name.

Frankly, it’s just embarrassing.


It really depends on what you’re buying.

Went shopping at a $0.99 store this weekend with girlchild, and bought a bag of broccoli (probably about $2 worth at the regular store), some red bell peppers (about 1/2 price of the regular grocery store), and a few kiddie tchockes, which are admittedly cheap.

So, if you’re cherry picking, you can get a deal. If you walk in thinking everything’s going to be a bargain, then you’re fooling yourself.

The folks that are screwed are the ones who have no choice but to buy a tiny toothpaste for $1 and whatnot as there are no other stores nearby. Very similar to the “hey, we only have a liquor store that stocks a small selection of overpriced grocery items” phenomenon.


Literally the Samuel Vimes’ Boots Theory of Economic Inequality:

"The reason that the rich were so rich…was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet." - Terry Pratchett, Men At Arms


lol didn’t see this before I posted the exact same thing


Weird. Here in Ontario/Canada, most dollar store type stores (Dollarama, Dollar Tree, Dollar Store, etc…) are in the same plaza as a grocery store, wal-mart, or some other food providing store like a Shopper’s Drug Mart (better prices on eggs than most grocery stores).

I guess as a result, they actually put some effort into having some decent merchandise? Yeah, the grocery aisle isn’t exactly full of good deals, but if you need dish washing gloves, or those nylon scrubbing things, or other disposable kitchen supplies, they’re the same brand as the grocery store, in the same quantity, just for less money. Their holiday section (switched over to halloween on August 1st) is usually pretty decent too.

Also, the Dollarama is the only place I’ve been able to find actual real brass wool for cleaning my soldering iron without having to buy an entire kit and stand set at the electronics supply store. The crap at the expensive grocery store next to it cost five times as much, and was freakin’ PLASTIC with a thin coating. What the hell?



Great mini track that somehow encapsulates my feelings about dollar stores in under 30 seconds.

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Unusual for boingboing to post a hit piece on a very popular marketing success story.

Some of the assertions are outright falsehoods. If products aren’t a good value, they don’t sell. No one is being deceived here. And I have never seen a Dollar Tree that wasn’t surrounded by supermarkets and other similar options.

Sure there are some items of poor quality. Sure, there are some items that you might find cheaper elsewhere. But if you are careful, and pick and choose, and comparison shop, many items can not be beat elsewhere.

Painting WalMart as the good guy is just a ridiculous final straw for the author. There is definitely malice bursting through here.


I like dollar stores for what they are. I know that the deodorant costs more per unit volume than Walmart, but not by a terrible amount and it fits nicer in my travel bag. I know per unit yard that the gift wrap is more expensive, but I actually wanted more varieties. And sometimes they just genuinely have good deals on stuff, e.g. the same bag of Haribo gummies is often twice as much as Target. I think their sweet spot is when you don’t need a lot of something or the quality really isn’t important.


I don’t mean to nitpick you, but there are a ton of dollar store in tiny little towns with little else to offer, and there are a lot of them in urban food deserts too.


There are bargains to be had for discerning shoppers. A pound of jasmine rice, a 26 oz. can of pickled jalapenos, a bottle of mustard, dry roasted peanuts and many other low ingredient items are half the price by weight or less than the grocery store next door. Many stores also carry the local Sunday paper for a dollar.


That, and be more empathetic to the realities of the costs of poverty! Like, my clothes washing machine has already paid for itself, but if I were still poor, I never could’ve afforded one, or had a stable enough home to have one, but could scrape up the few dollars a week it took to do my laundry at the laundry-mat.