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Strategy: We shopped at 3 of the biggest dollar-store chains in America to see which one offered the best experience, and the winner was clear (FIVE, DLTR, DG)




  • Dollar stores are having a moment.
  • Dollar Tree currently has 14,000 locations, with plans to open hundreds more in 2018. Comparable sales were up 1.8% at Dollar Tree in the second quarter.
  • Dollar General currently has about 15,000 locations, with plans to open 900 in 2018. Comparable sales were up 3.7% at Dollar General in the second quarter.
  • While not a traditional dollar store in that its products are priced up to $5, Five Below currently has 625 stores, and it plans to open 50 more this quarter alone. In the second quarter of 2018, Five Below's comparable sales grew by 2.7%.
  • We shopped at all three dollar stores and found that one of them offered a much better experience than the other two.

Dollar stores have been growing like crazy recently, with Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Five Below all planning on opening new stores in 2018. From 2010 to 2015, dollar-store sales grew from $30.4 billion to $45.3 billion in the United States.

Dollar Tree, which recently acquired the Family Dollar chain, currently has around 14,000 locations. In the second quarter of 2018, Dollar Tree reported comparable sales were up 1.8%. USA Today reported that Dollar Tree plans to open 350 more namesake locations, 300 new Family Dollar locations, and rebrand 50 Family Dollar locations as Dollar Tree stores.

Dollar General currently has around 15,000 locations. In 2017, Dollar General opened new locations at a rate of around four stores a day, and in 2018 it plans to open 900 more stores at a rate of about three stores a day. In the second quarter of 2018, Dollar General reported same-store sales were up 3.7%.

While not a traditional dollar store in that its products are priced up to $5, Five Below announced its own plans to grow earlier this year. In the second quarter of 2018, Five Below's comparable sales grew by 2.7%. It has opened 67 new stores so far in 2018 and plans to open another 50 this quarter in addition to the 625 stores it already operates, CEO Joel Anderson said in an earnings call earlier this month.

One of those stores will be a flagship location on New York's Fifth Avenue, one of the most expensive shopping destinations in the US, CNBC reported.

We compared what it's like to shop at the three rapidly growing stores and found that one offered a far better experience. Here's the verdict:

We visited Five Below in Queens, New York.

We visited Five Below in Queens, New York.play

We visited Five Below in Queens, New York.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Everything in the store cost $5 or less, and there were a few sales being advertised on top of the already low prices.

Everything in the store cost $5 or less, and there were a few sales being advertised on top of the already low prices.play

Everything in the store cost $5 or less, and there were a few sales being advertised on top of the already low prices.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

There were wheelbarrows filled with school supplies for $5 or less at the front of the store ...

There were wheelbarrows filled with school supplies for $5 or less at the front of the store ...play

There were wheelbarrows filled with school supplies for $5 or less at the front of the store ...

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

... and backpacks, notebooks, and other back-to-school essentials throughout the store.

... and backpacks, notebooks, and other back-to-school essentials throughout the store.play

... and backpacks, notebooks, and other back-to-school essentials throughout the store.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Five Below carried a ton of electronics like headphones and phone chargers.

Five Below carried a ton of electronics like headphones and phone chargers.play

Five Below carried a ton of electronics like headphones and phone chargers.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

An entire section of the store sold toys, games, and craft supplies.

An entire section of the store sold toys, games, and craft supplies.play

An entire section of the store sold toys, games, and craft supplies.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Near the toys and games, there was plenty of fitness and sporting equipment.

Near the toys and games, there was plenty of fitness and sporting equipment.play

Near the toys and games, there was plenty of fitness and sporting equipment.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Five Below carried a lot of home decor, which was surprisingly high quality for only $5.

Five Below carried a lot of home decor, which was surprisingly high quality for only $5.play

Five Below carried a lot of home decor, which was surprisingly high quality for only $5.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

It also carried decent quality clothes and shoes for only $5 ...

It also carried decent quality clothes and shoes for only $5 ...play

It also carried decent quality clothes and shoes for only $5 ...

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

... and a ton of cosmetic products from drugstore brands and smaller brands. Like the clothing, the cosmetics were surprisingly high-quality for the price.

... and a ton of cosmetic products from drugstore brands and smaller brands. Like the clothing, the cosmetics were surprisingly high-quality for the price.play

... and a ton of cosmetic products from drugstore brands and smaller brands. Like the clothing, the cosmetics were surprisingly high-quality for the price.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Near the front of the store were essentials like toothbrushes, first-aid supplies, and tissues.

Near the front of the store were essentials like toothbrushes, first-aid supplies, and tissues.play

Near the front of the store were essentials like toothbrushes, first-aid supplies, and tissues.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Five Below didn't sell any food, but it sold a ton of candy and soda by the register.

Five Below didn't sell any food, but it sold a ton of candy and soda by the register.play

Five Below didn't sell any food, but it sold a ton of candy and soda by the register.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Dollar Tree was the next store we went to, also in Queens.

Dollar Tree was the next store we went to, also in Queens.play

Dollar Tree was the next store we went to, also in Queens.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Seasonal Halloween products were displayed near the entrance.

Seasonal Halloween products were displayed near the entrance.play

Seasonal Halloween products were displayed near the entrance.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

There was a ton of school supplies towards the front of the store, similar to what we found at Five Below.

There was a ton of school supplies towards the front of the store, similar to what we found at Five Below.play

There was a ton of school supplies towards the front of the store, similar to what we found at Five Below.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

But much of the store was a complete mess.

But much of the store was a complete mess.play

But much of the store was a complete mess.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

There were a lot of electronics for $1, but the selection wasn't as big as at Five Below.

There were a lot of electronics for $1, but the selection wasn't as big as at Five Below.play

There were a lot of electronics for $1, but the selection wasn't as big as at Five Below.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

There were toys and games, but it didn't have as big a selection as Five Below, and the aisle was an absolute mess. There were boxes everywhere, toys left on the floor, and pages torn out of coloring books.

There were toys and games, but it didn't have as big a selection as Five Below, and the aisle was an absolute mess. There were boxes everywhere, toys left on the floor, and pages torn out of coloring books.play

There were toys and games, but it didn't have as big a selection as Five Below, and the aisle was an absolute mess. There were boxes everywhere, toys left on the floor, and pages torn out of coloring books.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Dollar Tree sold basic clothing items like socks and plain T-shirts, but it was hard to shop in this particular aisle because of how messy it was.

Dollar Tree sold basic clothing items like socks and plain T-shirts, but it was hard to shop in this particular aisle because of how messy it was.play

Dollar Tree sold basic clothing items like socks and plain T-shirts, but it was hard to shop in this particular aisle because of how messy it was.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Almost every aisle in the store was equally as messy.

Almost every aisle in the store was equally as messy.play

Almost every aisle in the store was equally as messy.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

It had a small selection of cosmetics, and even though nothing cost more than $1, it didn't offer as much as Five Below.

It had a small selection of cosmetics, and even though nothing cost more than $1, it didn't offer as much as Five Below.play

It had a small selection of cosmetics, and even though nothing cost more than $1, it didn't offer as much as Five Below.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

It did, however, offer a lot more essentials than Five Below. It had a big aisle of first-aid supplies, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and other products you would find at a drugstore.

It did, however, offer a lot more essentials than Five Below. It had a big aisle of first-aid supplies, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and other products you would find at a drugstore.play

It did, however, offer a lot more essentials than Five Below. It had a big aisle of first-aid supplies, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and other products you would find at a drugstore.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

It also carried a lot of canned food and basic baking products, in addition to snacks and frozen foods. Everything was $1.

It also carried a lot of canned food and basic baking products, in addition to snacks and frozen foods. Everything was $1.play

It also carried a lot of canned food and basic baking products, in addition to snacks and frozen foods. Everything was $1.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Finally we went to Dollar General, which was down the block from Dollar Tree.

Finally we went to Dollar General, which was down the block from Dollar Tree.play

Finally we went to Dollar General, which was down the block from Dollar Tree.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

The front of the store had a clearance table with seasonal summer products.

Dollar General and Five Below both had a lot of clearance sales on top of their already low prices.play

Dollar General and Five Below both had a lot of clearance sales on top of their already low prices.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Dollar General didn't have nearly as many school supplies as the other two stores did ...

Dollar General didn't have nearly as many school supplies as the other two stores did ...play

Dollar General didn't have nearly as many school supplies as the other two stores did ...

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

... and the electronics it offered were nearly double the price of Dollar Tree and Five Below.

... and the electronics it offered were nearly double the price of Dollar Tree and Five Below.play

... and the electronics it offered were nearly double the price of Dollar Tree and Five Below.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

It had a handful of toys and games for under $5 ...

It had a handful of toys and games for under $5 ...play

It had a handful of toys and games for under $5 ...

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

... and it had an aisle of inexpensive and seasonal home decor.

... and it had an aisle of inexpensive and seasonal home decor.play

... and it had an aisle of inexpensive and seasonal home decor.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

The makeup section at Dollar General was nearly identical to what you would find at a drugstore, and the prices were about the same as well.

The makeup section at Dollar General was nearly identical to what you would find at a drugstore, and the prices were about the same as well.play

The makeup section at Dollar General was nearly identical to what you would find at a drugstore, and the prices were about the same as well.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Dollar General definitely had the most food out of the three stores, though it was a bit more expensive than Dollar Tree.

Dollar General definitely had the most food out of the three stores, though it was a bit more expensive than Dollar Tree.play

Dollar General definitely had the most food out of the three stores, though it was a bit more expensive than Dollar Tree.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

After visiting all three stores, it seemed that Five Below had the best deals. The biggest drawback was that it didn't sell food, but it was, all in all, much cleaner. It offered the best shopping experience of the three, and the products were higher quality.

After visiting all three stores, it seemed that Five Below had the best deals. The biggest drawback was that it didn't sell food, but it was, all in all, much cleaner. It offered the best shopping experience of the three, and the products were higher quality.play

After visiting all three stores, it seemed that Five Below had the best deals. The biggest drawback was that it didn't sell food, but it was, all in all, much cleaner. It offered the best shopping experience of the three, and the products were higher quality.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)
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