In Britain, they're called Pound Stores; in Poland, A Zloty or More. Whatever the country or currency, the idea of getting something for only a dollar has had thrifty consumers dashing to dollar stores since they first opened in the early 1990s.

"Almost 77 per cent of Canadian households shopped at a dollar store in the past year," according to a 2006 Nielsen survey. The survey also revealed that customers spend, on average, about $10 per trip.

The beauty of the dollar store is buying power: You get a lot for a little. "I can stock up on tons of household and garage items, like plastic organizers for nails and spatulas, for next to nothing," says London, Ont., resident Rex Santos.

But quantity doesn't ensure quality, and it's buyer beware at dollar stores. "I don't buy anything that I plan on keeping for very long," says Melanie Hickingbottom, another London, Ont., resident.

To help you decipher deal from dud, we've compared prices and questioned dollar-store shoppers to understand this loonie-inspired phenomenon.

Go big or ...
In Canada, Dollarama is the largest dollar-store chain with over 603 locations. When you step into a Dollarama, you'll notice there are no prices listed on most of the items: that means it costs $1. When you do see a price, that means it's more than a dollar.

Often the size of a warehouse, these dollar stores have a larger selection. "The small ones seem to have more knick knacks, they're not as purposeful," says Hickingbottom, who only shops at dollar stores for gift wrap and Christmas stocking stuffers.

Some dollar stores specialize their merchandise: for example, Buck or Two offers mostly party items such as paper plates, gift wrap and streamers. Great Canadian Dollar Store and Your Dollar Store With More offer more items over $1, such as four steak knives for $1.25 or a kitchen whisk for the same price.

The size is also good for more than just selection. Large stores buy from a central supplier that ensures quality checks on all their merchandise.

The problems arise when smaller dollar stores, or store managers, outsource their products from various suppliers without knowing the products' backgrounds. That's not to say a large company won't have unsafe products, it's just less likely, says one counterfeit lawyer.

Counterfeit
When Lorne Lipkus, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in anti-counterfeit, turned over a battery recharger only to find the word Sony missing part of the letter Y, he knew it was a fake. "The problem with these counterfeits is that they don't have quality control. I've pulled out toys from dollar stores that are made of dangerous materials," he says.