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Thursday, May 10, 2012

What to buy at the discount store - and what not to

Have you figured out that I work at a discount store yet? Yeah, I thought so. I've kind of beat that point into the ground. One day my dad said, "You blogged about shopping again?" and it hit me that I've blogged about it too much. BUT, I also got a ton of valuable feedback on Let's Talk About Shopping. People seemed to find it helpful.

So here I am, blogging again about shopping.

I want to talk about what you should and shouldn't get from your local discount store. Wal-Mart is good because you can get everything in one place... but only some things are cheap there. (I personally choose not to go to Wal-Mart if I can help it.) Depending on where you live, you probably have one of these (or similar) stores near you:

When we lived in Kansas we didn't have anything like this... the closest we could get was Target in Manhattan (KS, not NY), which was about a thirty-five minute drive from our home. So I'm fully aware this is not available to everyone. But if you have your choice of stores, like we do here in Utah, you might not know exactly what you can/should get there.

What to Buy Discount: 

1. Tanks, shapewear, underwear, socks. These are things that don't require an awesome brand name because they go under your clothes, and you generally need several of them, especially with layering being so popular. Shapewear especially can be extremely expensive at other stores, but one of the cheapest things where I work. (I tried to buy a tummy shaper at Target once and found it was $40. Same thing at my store, approx. $8.)

2. Headphones, gaming controllers, etc. If you're extremely picky about your electronics, like my husband, this won't work for you. But if you're just looking for a pair of ear buds to run with, discount is the way to go. Same brands as other stores, but cheaper.

3. A new style you're just trying out. If you're like me, you see something on someone else or on Pinterest and think, "That's adorable!" but don't want to spend a fortune seeing if it will work for your body/skin tone. That's where discount store comes in. You can find current styles for half the price as department/mall stores, try them out, and if they don't turn out to be as awesome as you thought, you haven't wasted a lot of money on it.

4. Gifts. I can't even tell you how much money this will save you. Your kid has a lot of friends? Everyone is having a baby in the same month? Friend re-modeled their house and wants you to come to their housewarming party? Six weddings in June? This is where discount stores are really awesome. Throw together a cute little basket + kitchen/bath supplies or a super-cheap toy for a birthday party, pick up the gift bag while you're at it, and you're good to go. (Just don't forget about the price tag... they can be difficult to remove on the run and can sometimes be right on the face of the thing you're buying, like picture frames. You might need rubbing alcohol or vinegar to remove.) You COULD run to Wal-Mart and fight the zombie-apocalypse parking lot/lines, or you could just grab some at the discount store and pay half as much.

5. Toys. Holidays you don't really want to spend a lot of money on (filling an Easter basket, Valentine's Day, etc.) call for discount toys. They aren't as cheap/breakable as dollar store toys, but they aren't as expensive as Target or Toys-R-Us, either.

6. Movies. You have to look often to find something good, but about once a week there's a killer movie for  cheap. This week at work I bought Inception for $3.99. Score.

7. That designer purse you've wanted. Or something close to it. I'm not the type to spend a bunch of money on a purse. In fact, I'm not the type to spend any money on a purse. But if I was, it would be a seriously awesome deal to buy them at my work.

8. Kids' clothes. I know, I know, Gymboree has such adorable little outfits! You'll only have to spend $50 for one! That's great for special occasions, but the rest of the time your kids are just running, jumping, skipping, playing and generally ruining their clothing. Or they're growing like a weed and won't wear that outfit for more than two weeks. In these cases, you can get your kid an entire new outfit including shoes for $20. So worth it, and if there are holes in those $6 jeans next week? You won't be crying about it.

9. Comforter, pillow cases & sheets. MUCH cheaper than even Wal-Mart, and if you're lucky you'll catch it on Clearance.


1. SHOP OFF-SEASON. This can be difficult, but seriously worth it. You may be thinking, "But we need summer clothes NOW!" and I get it. Sometimes there is only enough money for this season's necessities. But if you're in a position to pick up a few things you won't need till Fall or Winter, NOW'S THE TIME. Buy next year's swimsuit in September for $1.99 and use it to look forward to. (Work so you can fit into it next season, knowing you've got a new suit that's never been worn!) The fact is, two days after the first snow of the season ALL the shorts are $2.99; snow hats and gloves are 99 cents the first day of Spring. (My boss buys hats/gloves in bulk in the spring and donates them to the local women's shelter. That's when it's affordable to donate to charity!)

2. Discount stores have one goal: Get the product out the door FAST. This means there's clearance OFTEN. Once a week I go in for six or seven hours and mark down half the store. HALF the store, I'm telling you! Ask an employee which day is Markdown day and shop the day after. You wouldn't believe how many things I've bought for practically nothing because I have access to the discount product before anyone else. I bought Asher a pair of jeans for 49 CENTS on Monday. Yeah.

What NOT to Expect from Your Discount Store: 

1. Perfect organization. We try really, really hard to keep our store beautiful and easy to shop. But the fact is, you have to hunt for your bargains at a store like this. It takes some rummaging sometimes, and that's the glory of it. If you absolutely must have everything perfectly displayed on a mannequin, you may want to shop elsewhere (and you're going to pay for that, too).

2. Six cashiers just waiting to serve you. Discount stores save money by multi-tasking employees. The fewer employees on the floor, the cheaper they can run the store, the cheaper the merchandise can be. I've heard a lot of people complain that the cash registers aren't all manned and ready, but if we did that it would be impossible to keep merchandise prices low. Your discount comes from somewhere; it's not magic.

3. Get it when you see it! Our shipments are entirely random. They come in five days/week, so there's always something new, but sometimes we only get ONE of each thing. If you see it and love it, BUY IT WHEN YOU SEE IT. It won't be there next time you come in. Complaining that you can't find the shirt you saw last week just doesn't phase us; that's how it works. There's also no back-stock. Remember the goal is to get everything out the door quickly, so there aren't shelves full of multiples that we're hiding in the back room. It doesn't exist. What you see is what there is.

4. Clean-up crew. Employees are paid at or barely above minimum wage. Let's be reasonable, they simply aren't paid enough to pick up after you.

5. Security measures. I'm constantly hearing women in the fitting room complaining about the fact that we have a security-tag on almost everything. When everything is selling so cheap, every item counts. A LOT. We're not just going to let it fly out the door. Security tags are a small price to pay for cheap clothing. Also, we monitor closely everything that goes in/out of the fitting rooms/rest rooms. This prevents theft. A woman asked my co-worker when he insisted she only bring eight items in the fitting room at a time, "Well who is going to bring me the rest when I'm ready to try them on?" Nobody, lady. That's who. If you're looking for delivery service to your fitting room door, go pay the guy who makes commission at Buckle. Just sayin'.

6. Not sure if we have something you're looking for? We aren't either! Don't expect us to know exactly what merchandise we have at any given moment. It's just not possible to know for sure, and no two stores are exactly the same, even within the same company.

7. An old man brought me a ratty old pair of slippers once, complaining, "I bought these slippers here five years ago! Why are they falling apart? They are DOCKERS! That's a good brand!" He demanded a new pair for free. There's absolutely, positively no way we are replacing your five-year-old slippers, and the idea that we would still have that particular shoe, five years later? Ridiculous.

8. There was actually a man who "offered" my manager $12 for a $14 shirt. "I'll give you $12," he said. Haggling? No. Discount yes, swap meet no.

Hope this helps somebody! Good luck hunting! 


  1. Aw I wouldve given you inception for free! Lol we have like 3 copies for some reason

  2. I used to work at Marshall's and I LOVED it there! The deals you find when you are there every single day are incredible! But we also got the crazies.. some lady returned a nubby, nasty bathing suit that had been washed a million times. She had a receipt dated for three years prior! Things like that we just threw in the trash, but she still got the store credit for a similar suit. SMH
    But still, I love shopping at places like that. Two years ago I got my son a London Fog winter coat and snow pant set at a discount store for only $20! It fit him two winters in a row, and it's still in excellent condition.
    Another awesome thing about discount stores is that there are always really unique items in the housewares section. You can get something that no one else has to offset the couch that three other friends of yours have(seriously, three other people have the same couch as me lol!)

    Great post as always :D

  3. I love shopping at end of season sales. Ivan score things for a buck and change!
    Great tips friend!!!

  4. Why preventing theft is important:

    Say the discount store has a profit margin of 10% on most of their items. (It is unlikely that it's that high at a discount place. And it's going to vary by dept and item. But 10% makes the math easy so the concept is easy to grasp.)

    If that store sells a $20 pair of pants then it nets $2. Sell enough of those and you can keep the doors open, floor and registers manned, and lights on.

    But if someone steals one of those shirts the store then has to sell 10 more JUST TO CATCH UP TO WHERE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE FROM THE SALE OF THAT ONE SHIRT. No profit from those 10 and now there are 10 fewer shirts available for sale.

    Premium stores have much bigger profit margins. If someone steals an $80 shirt at Buckle then Buckle is likely out close to the same $18 (maybe $36) that the discount store was. But it doesn't require selling as many shirts to catch up. Still hurts them, obviously, but not as much as the discount store. This is counterintuitive for the casual shoplifter who says to him/herself "It's only a $20 shirt. They won't miss it." YES THEY WILL.

    Again, the real situation is more complicated, especially when you get into inventory carrying costs, inventory turn cycles, the fact that the store probably relies on (revolving) credit terms to buy their inventory (which is why complete inventory turnover is so important; have to pay off the debt before the interest from the purchase overtakes the profit from its sale), and much more.

    I guess the moral of the story is steal from a mall store? :( How about, if you steal you're just increasing the cost of doing business and that will raise prices.

    Also shut up and deal with the rules and security measures so you can save a ton of money on those 8+ items you just NEED to try on.

    - Jon

    PS, the mall store situation is more complicated as well, as their rent is substantially higher and they have to pay a percentage of their sales back to the mall management company, among other differences.

  5. Very informative! And well-written. And entertaining. :)

  6. Love shopping the discount stores :)


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