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Bates Claims Navy Exchange Prices Are No Savings


Sailors who shop at the Navy Exchange at Miramar Naval Air Station pay an average of 4% more for merchandise than they would if they shopped at civilian stores in the same area, a survey ordered by Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) found.

"The Navy Exchanges are in horrible shape," said the congressman, who ordered a recent price comparison survey in the area of the base. "The bottom line is that all sailors have lost any advantage of buying Exchange products. One look at my independent price survey will back that up."

But the Navy says its own annual survey--conducted in May by Erhart-Babic, an independent market research firm--shows that sailors save 23% by shopping at San Diego-area base exchanges instead of private retailers. Worldwide, sailors save 22% when using Navy Exchange stores, the Navy says.

A Navy spokesman said the survey conducted by Bates' staff and volunteers was flawed and unfair because it compared merchandise that private retailers typically use as loss leaders or placed on sale used to lure customers.

"What they did was hand-pick items that are not representative," said Cmdr. Doug Schampan. "Sailors aren't paying more, and officials are doing everything they can to save the shopper money."

Navywide, shopping at Navy Exchange stores, which are open only to military or retired military personnel, is 21.6% cheaper, Schamp said, citing a recent report that evaluated 300 items. In San Diego, which has eight exchanges, the shopper saves 23%, he said.

The savings vary by product, according to the Navy's survey. The survey found that, at exchanges, candy is 13% cheaper; beverages 14%; tobacco 25%; convenience food products 29%, and home furnishings and housewares 31.6%. Navy Exchange managers cannot, however, price an item at less than cost as civilian stores frequently do to woo customers, they said.

Bates' staff went to seven stores in the Mira Mesa area Monday to get a "snapshot look" at prices of 37 randomly selected items, said Tom Burgess, a spokesman for the congressman.

According to that survey, Mennen deodorant that cost $2.20 at the Miramar Navy Exchange, went for $1.99 at Long's Drugs; $2.39 at Target; $1.79 at K mart, and $2.39 at Vons. A 14-ounce container of Johnson Baby Powder cost $3.50 on base, while selling for $2.49 at Long's and Target. And a container of 100 Anacin tablets that cost $5.60 at the Navy Exchange sold for $4.49 at Long's and $2.49 at Target.

"There is no way the Navy Exchanges should get beat by civilian stores on a 60-tablet pack of Tylenol and certainly not by 20% across the board on this item," said Bates, who last month called for a Navy Inspector General and congressional investigation into inventory losses at exchanges.

Sixteen items tallied at the Miramar exchange cost $230.24; the same or comparable items cost $221.23--or 4% less--at civilian stores, according to Bates' survey.

But a Navy Exchange official said Bates' survey was unfair and inaccurate. A Weber barbecue grill, which Bates' survey listed at $79, regularly costs $69.99 at San Diego Exchanges and is now on sale for $64.99--about the same price at Home Depot. Another item, a gallon of paint, was not compared to a comparable brand, said the official, who asked not to be named.

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