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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 Tree, Dollar General, and Five below are all opening tons of new stores this year.

Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Five Below are three of the fastest-growing dollar-store chains in the United States.

  • Dollar stores are having a moment.
  • Dollar Tree currently has 14,000 locations, with plans to open hundreds more by the end of 2018. Comparable sales were up 2.3% at Dollar Tree in the third quarter.
  • Dollar General currently has about 15,000 locations, with plans to open 975 more in 2019. Comparable sales were up 2.8% at Dollar General in the third quarter.
  • While not a traditional dollar store in that its products are priced up to $5, Five Below opened 53 stores in the third quarter, bringing its store total to 745. Five Below's comparable sales grew by 4.8% in the quarter.
  • 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 opening tons of 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 third quarter of 2018, Dollar Tree reported comparable sales were up 2.3%. Dollar Tree said that in 2019, it plans to open 350 more namesake locations, 200 new Family Dollar locations, and rebrand 200 Family Dollar locations as Dollar Tree stores.

Dollar General currently has around 15,000 locations. It is on track to open 900 new stores in 2018. During a call with investors on Tuesday, the company said it plans to open 975 more stores in 2019.

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 third quarter of 2018, Five Below reported comparable sales grew by 4.8%. It opened 53 new stores this quarter, bringing its store count to 745.

One of those stores that opened was a flagship location on New York's Fifth Avenue, one of the most expensive shopping destinations in the US.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasonal Halloween products were displayed near the entrance.

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

But much of the store was a complete mess.

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

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.

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.

Almost every aisle in the store was equally as messy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.


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