To become a successful couponer, you often have to give up your brand loyalties. If someone in your family is out of their favorite brand of toothpaste, for example, and that brand doesn’t have any coupons available and isn’t on sale – well, chances are that family member had better learn to live with whatever the best-priced brand is that week.

If you ever find yourself in just such a need-it-now situation, when there are no good deals to be had, and you’ll settle for the most inexpensive regular-priced product you can get, where should you go?

Walmart?

Sorry, wrong answer, at least according to a new study from a retail consulting firm. Would you believe – Dollar General?

For the second straight year, the dollar store chain has edged out Walmart in Kantar Retail’s annual “Opening Price Point Study”, which compared prices on a basket of 21 similar products at six stores.

That’s “similar” products, not identical, because this isn’t your ordinary price-comparison survey. In retail-speak, the “opening price point” is the lowest price in an entire product category. So Kantar’s study didn’t compare the prices of, say, a bottle of Heinz ketchup across all six stores. Instead, it compared the prices of the cheapest ketchup available in each store, no matter the brand.

No brand loyalties, remember, if you want some serious savings.

Kantar found that, overall, Dollar General offered the most inexpensive options for value-seeking shoppers. At the New England-area Walmart that researchers visited earlier this month, the cheapest brand of cereal, for example, was $1.98. Dollar General’s was (you guessed it), a dollar. Walmart had canned veggies for 68 cents, while you could get a can at Dollar General for 50 cents. Dollar General’s total basket price was $28.70 – a razor-thin 12 cents better than Walmart’s $28.82.

Presumably, though, you will not suddenly run out of and desperately need such disparate items as cereal, toothpaste, toilet paper, ketchup and shampoo all at the same time. So you may or may not want to seek out a Dollar General if you have an emergency run to make. Because while Dollar General won in the overall comparison, others did better in specific categories.

In the grocery category, it was actually Aldi that won on price. A half gallon of milk, for example, set the Kantar researchers back $2.37 at Walmart. Aldi had it for just $1.39. And Dollar General? It sold the most expensive milk of all, at $2.50 for a half gallon. Stop & Shop, Family Dollar and Target’s milk prices were all somewhere in between.

Walmart edged out Dollar General in the “non-edible grocery” category as well, with better prices than all the rest on items like dish soap, toilet paper and diapers. And it also nearly swept the health and beauty category, with the best prices on bar soap, toothpaste and shampoo. But its cheapest disposable razor, at $1.97, was nearly twice as expensive as Dollar General’s $1 version – enough for Dollar General to claim the category, and ultimately claim its 12-cent margin of victory in the entire study.

On the flip side, Aldi did particularly poorly in the health and beauty category, with opening price points that were double, triple, even nearly four times as expensive as Dollar General’s. And Target was highest in the edible and non-edible grocery categories.

Target had the highest opening price points overall – but with a caveat. Walgreens was excluded from this year’s study, “due to a lack of opening price point competitiveness in previous years,” the researchers explained. Last year, Walgreens was nearly off the charts, with a total basket price that was more than twice that of Dollar General’s.

So is Dollar General the best place to price shop, on a technicality (all because of those disposable razors)? Should you opt for Walmart? Or maybe Aldi for food, and somewhere else for your health and beauty products? Or are Target’s high prices really an illusion, because of Walgreens’ exclusion (and since a separate, earlier Kantar report suggested that Target actually had the lowest prices when you factored in coupons)?

The real lesson – it pays to shop around.

More importantly, it pays even better not to run out of things and have to hunt for the lowest opening price point in the first place.

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