Are you really getting a bargain at your favorite dollar store?

In a comparison of 17 everyday articles, a CBC Marlet A survey found that prices at Dollar Tree were the same or higher in a unit price analysis than at Dollarama or even Walmart, meaning Canadians may not always get the deal they think be when shopping at popular dollar store chains.

“As the name suggests, everything here seems like a dollar more or less. Doesn’t it? Even if it doesn’t,” said Schulich School of Business professor Markus Giesler from York University.

WATCH: The full Marketplace survey:

Battle of the Dollar Store Giants

Does shopping at a dollar store always save you money? CBC Marketplace put two of Canada’s most popular dollar stores to the test: Dollarama and Dollar Tree. 8:15

Marketing and store layout can contribute to the perception of the best deal, but this is not always the case.

“The way merchandise is presented to us is designed to make us buy more than we absolutely need,” Giesler said. “It’s also, quite honestly, the trap that many consumers fall into. Me included.”

Dollarama has over 1,400 locations across Canada with products ranging from just under $1 to around $4. The company announced this week that it plans to start selling select items for up to $5. Dollar Tree has about 230 pitches sell goods for $1.25 or $1.50.

what they spent

The test aimed to compare identical items, but stores often sold products of different sizes. In this case, the price was broken down per unit.

Froot Loops at Dollar Tree is $1.25 compared to $4 at Walmart and $2 at Dollarama. However, the package at Dollar Tree weighed only 87 grams compared to 345 grams at Walmart and 230 grams at Dollarama; converting to unit price means the Dollar Tree product ends up costing more per 100 grams.

Froot Loops from Walmart, Dollar Tree and Dollarama Featured in Unit Price Comparison (David Abrahams/CBC)

“There’s a discrepancy between what these stores communicate, what they send and what they deliver, and that’s something that is not always known to low-income consumers,” Giesler said.

Two test buyers and the Marlet The team went to Dollarama, Dollar Tree and Walmart for a list of the same products in toiletries, snacks, food, cleaning products, toys and pet food – although found that the sizes often varied.

Need to compare prices

Giesler said shoppers need to know their size comparisons.

A common tactic at dollar stores, he noted, is to carry only one type of product — a brand of toothpaste, for example — which makes comparison shopping difficult in-store.

Dollar stores generally don’t sell anything for $1 anymore, and many of those stores are located in lower-income neighborhoods with more newcomers to Canada, he said.

“We often talk about vulnerable consumers, low-income families, and families who actually need every penny and every dollar,” he said.

“They report, ‘We’re making affordability and the Canadian dream a reality. “”

Not All Dollar Stores Are Created Equal

In the end, Dollarama did well in Market of test, still ahead of Dollar Tree on price and within pennies of Walmart in this 17-item comparison.

Dollarama sent Marlet a statement that stated that it aimed to provide competitively priced everyday products at low fixed prices all year round without sales or promotions.

Seven products that were more expensive in a price-per-unit comparison at Dollar Tree were: Froot Loops, Pringles, KitKat, Whiskas Perfect Portion cat food, Starburst candies, Colgate toothpaste and Crest 3D white toothpaste, which cost more of $6. per 100 milliliters.

Dollar Tree has had a few wins in the Marlet test: Smarties (at 75 grams versus 45 grams) and Lever 2000 shower gel had better prices than its competitors.

In a statement, the company wrote that Crest 3D white toothpaste is considered a travel item and consumers continue to shop Dollar Tree for the extreme values ​​they can find.

Two popular kids’ items — Hot Wheels cars and Play-Doh containers — were slightly more expensive at both dollar stores than at Walmart.

These products were slightly more expensive at two-dollar stores than at Walmart. (Stephanie Matteis/CBC)

“When we walk into a dollar store, we don’t really think about doing the value equation or the math in our head,” said Professor Mark Lee of Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. .

Instead, he said people are “thinking more about the dollar,” which anchors shoppers in a concept that it’s not a lot to spend, but shoppers often spend more than expected and rarely leave a store. to a dollar with a single item.

In a price win for dollar stores, the two offered pregnancy tests for $1.25. Walmart had one for over $8.

Walmart Equate Pregnancy Test; Dollar Tree Pulse; and Medicare from Dollarama. (Stephanie Matteis/CBC)

All three brands are listed in Health Canada’s database of approved licensed products for their efficacy and safety when used as directed.

Dr. Dara Maker, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital, says she recommends the dollar pregnancy tests for her own patients who are trying to conceive.

“If you get a positive pregnancy test from a dollar store, you’re pregnant,” Maker said. “It’s very rare to get a false positive.”

Some products, like one-litre juice boxes for some brands like Minute Maid and Five Alive, were only pennies apart at each store.

Experts said there are things consumers can do to make sure they’re getting a good deal at the dollar store, like comparing prices and sizes.

“Do your research whenever you can. Compare and contrast even when the comparison can’t happen on the shelf itself in the aisle,” Giesler said, suggesting that price comparison apps can be useful.

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