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SHOP TALK : Comparing Discount Prices Can Make Cents : Penny pinchers and coupon clippers, be advised. The chain stores' names are identical, but the tags on items are not.

March 03, 1994|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maybe you don't clip candy coupons. Maybe you don't wait for your favorite brand of aspirin to go on sale before buying it. Maybe you don't save bars of soap until there's no more than a fingernail's worth left--and then pronounce it dead only after it slides from your hands and slithers down the drain.

Many people take major steps to scrimp and save on everyday household items. Maybe you don't.

But we'd be willing to bet you also don't go out of your way to find the highest prices on items either. We'd be willing to bet that all things being equal--like convenience of location--you would shop where the items you want the most cost the least. Maybe you'd even go so far as to do the vast majority of your shopping at discount stores.

Last week we visited some local outlets of well-known discount chains to see how discounted these discount items are. We took five frequently purchased items--candy, shampoo, soap, juice and pain relief medicine--and did a little price comparison (tax not included).

Let's start with juice. If you've got kids, no doubt you've got juice. We chose cranberry juice cocktail.

First we stopped at the Walmart in the Shopping at the Rose shopping center in Oxnard. A 64-ounce plastic container of Ocean Spray cranberry juice was going for $2.32. The same size container of Sam's Choice (the house brand) was priced at $1.97.

At the Oxnard Target store, the price was $2.34 for the Ocean Spray and $1.99 for Greatland (the house special). The price of that same Ocean Spray in the Ventura Target was $2.44, and at the Simi Valley Target it was $2.99. Greatland was going for $1.99 in Simi Valley, but $2.07 in Ventura.

At the Simi Valley K mart, Ocean Spray was $2.67 and Nature's Classic (the house brand) was $1.97. At K mart in Ventura, the prices were $2.54 (Ocean Spray) and $1.97 (Nature's Classic). At the Thrifty store in Ventura's Buenaventura Mall, a 48-ounce glass jar of Ocean Spray was $2.19. And at the Price Club in Oxnard, where things are sold in bulk, Ocean Spray was going for $4.89 per gallon (and 64 ounces is half a gallon).

Had enough to drink?

Let's move on to candy--our personal favorite, and darn it if we didn't feel obligated to do a taste test, just to be thorough. We decided to focus on a one-pound bag of peanut M&Ms.

At Walmart, the bag was priced at $2.17; at Target in Oxnard, $1.99 (it was a dime cheaper at the Ventura Target), and at the Ventura K mart, it was selling for $1.99. At the Price Club, a three-pound bag of peanut M&Ms was $5.09. (Don't think we weren't tempted.)

After handling all that chocolate, we figured we'd better wash our hands. We priced a few common brands of soap bars.

A twin-pack of Dove cost $1.55 at Walmart, $2.11 at the Ventura K mart, and $2.39 at the Buenaventura Mall Thrifty. At the Price Club, an eight-pack was $7.29. As for Target in Oxnard, one bar is regularly priced at $1.09, but was on sale: six bars for $5.

A three-pack of Zest was $1.92 at both the Oxnard and Ventura Targets, $2.07 at the Ventura K mart, and $2.29 at the Ventura Thrifty. A dozen Zest bars were $5.99 at the Price Club.

While we were in the health and beauty section, we picked out a couple of shampoos. Suave (12 ounces) was 97 cents at Walmart, 99 cents at the Target stores, $1.68 at K mart, and $1.59 at Thrifty. Revlon Flex (15 ounces) was $1.58 at K mart, $1.59 at the Targets, $1.23 at Walmart, and was on sale at Thrifty for $2.09 (regularly priced at $2.69).

And finally, we took a look at the medicine aisle--all these numbers kind of gave us a headache. A package of 50 generic ibuprofen tablets was $2.66 at K mart, $1.96 at Walmart, $1.96 at the Oxnard Target, and $2.35 at the Ventura Target.

It doesn't hurt to compare prices, not only between chains, but between stores in the same chain. And if you happen to find a sale along the way, congratulations.

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