In 2014, Kantar Retail Research compared the price of a basket of goods at Dollar General, Walmart, Target, and several other stores. Surprisingly, Dollar General had the lowest prices overall, followed by Walmart. Target was the least wallet-friendly of all the retailers.
But price isn’t the only issue to consider before deciding whether to spend your dollars at Wally World. While the 11,000-store chain seems like a bargain-shopper’s dream, it doesn’t always offer good value for your money, even if the price tag seems low. Ditto for similar big-box discount retailers like Target and Kmart, which may offer seemingly good deals on inferior products.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t bargains to be had at Walmart and its ilk. But if you need any of the following five items, you might be able to save a little or get more for your money by shopping elsewhere.
1. Store-brand supplements
If you’re picking up your ginseng or St. John’s Wort at Walmart, you may not be getting what you pay for. A recent investigation by the New York attorney general’s office found that many of the store-brand herbal supplements sold at Walmart, Target, Walgreen’s, and GNC didn’t contain any DNA from the plants listed on the label. Walmart was the worst offender of the bunch, with only 4% of products testing positive for the labeled ingredients. Its ginkgo biloba supplements were actually powdered radish, houseplants, and wheat, the New York Times reported.
Both outside experts and those in the supplement industry questioned whether the results of the government’s study were correct. Nonetheless, Walmart said it would address the issue with its suppliers, though it’s not clear if any changes have since been made to the products sold under its Spring Valley brand.
2. Gift cards
When you need a last-minute gift, it’s easy to pop into Walmart and grab a gift card. But there are ways to get a better deal on these pieces of plastic.
You can find discounted gift cards on sites like Card Cash and Raise, which serve as online marketplaces for people looking to unload their unused gift cards. If you earn rewards points on your credit card, you might be able to redeem those for gift cards, often getting more dollars per points than you would if you redeemed for cash. Members of Costco and Sam’s Club can also sometimes get discounts on gift cards. Costco currently has four $25 Smashburger gift cards on sale for $79.99, for example.
Walmart may offer one-stop shopping, but it doesn’t always beat more focused competitors on price. Groceries at no-frills store Aldi were 15% cheaper than at Walmart, Kiplinger reported, while organic milk, organic fruits and vegetables, and nuts were cheaper at Aldi and Trader Joe’s.
Shoppers have also expressed discontent with the quality of produce at Walmart; the chain’s Supercenter stores ranked dead last in terms of freshness in Consumer Report’s recent survey of people’s favorite supermarkets. The chain also earned low scores in every other category except for price
4. Wrapping paper
Spending big bucks on wrapping paper is pretty silly, since it’s just going to end up in the trash. If you need paper, tissue, or gift bags to make your next present look presentable, head to the 99-cent store.
“You’re better off getting gift-giving supplies like wrapping paper, tape, bows and ribbons at dollar stores where they are less expensive,” David Bakke of Money Crashers told Philly.com.
If you’re in the mood to redecorate, don’t head to Walmart or Target. While their prices for furniture are on the low end, the quality is often not that great and selection is limited.
“Yes, their furniture may be cheap, but if it only lasts a short time, you will spend far more money in the long run,” Kathy Woodard, a home decorating expert, told CBS News.
Antique and consignment stores may be a better bet if you’re looking for budget-friendly yet quality items, or simply save your pennies and invest in more expensive but built-to-last furniture.