Exchange Goods Too Pricey For The Families They Serve

It’s about time for my regular, unscheduled rant about the price of the products that are carried at the military exchanges.  We’ve just come back from five years living at places with very limited exchange offerings.  Now that we’re back to full-size stores, I am disappointed with the choices available.  More importantly, I don’t see how the choices (and prices) meet the mission of serving military families.

For your reference, here are the missions of the two exchange systems:

Navy Exchange mission:  to provide authorized customers with quality goods and services at a savings and to support Navy quality of life programs for active duty military, retirees, reservists and their families.

AAFES mission:  We go where you go to improve your quality of life through the goods and services we provide.

In the whole moving from uniforms to regular school clothes, one of my children has found herself with not enough clothes to get through the school week.  I don’t want to spend a lot of money on her clothes because she is 13 and isn’t likely to get a lot of use out of them before she grows.  Plus, I just don’t like to spend a lot on clothes.  We’re usually thrift store and consignment shoppers, but time was of the essence, so I thought we would go to the nearest Navy exchange.

Well, goodness, that was disappointing.

The selection wasn’t great, but more disappointing was the prices.  The store has some really nice products – really, really nice.  We’re talking Brooks Brothers, Vineyard Vines, and Ralph Lauren.  But you know what…I don’t need those brands.  I need basic, serviceable clothing at an affordable price.  Now, the store does offer some more moderate brands, but even those aren’t cheap.  Even scouring the clearance racks, I couldn’t find a pair of trousers for less than $25 a pair.  I know that a lot of people think that is a perfectly reasonable price, but I don’t.  And being familiar with the military pay charts, I’m pretty sure there are significant number of military families that aren’t budgeting $25 for a pair of trousers for a 13-year-old.

Which brings me to the same questions I always ask:  For whom are the Exchanges purchasing these products?  And if military families can’t afford to shop at the Exchange, where are they shopping?  Does the product mix being offered by the military Exchange stores meet the missions of the stores?


About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Kate, I think the Exchange inventory (and pricing) is skewed to retirees.

    But I don’t know how they decide what clothing to carry. I usually end up at Goodwill too.

    • Rob

      You and I are old enough to remember when the exchanges carried really crappy, cheap stuff. It was worse than K-Mart and you were laughed at if you bought clothes there. They did some surveys and found out that (some) service members wanted name-brand stuff to buy in the exchange, so they started filling that “need.” I’m sure they found out it was also more profitable.

      It also depends where you are. MCRD San Diego used to have the reputation as the “nice” exchange compared to others in the area. Near the Pentagon there are the AAFES PX on Ft Myer and the Marine Corps Exchange on Henderson Hall. The 2 installations are now one joint base, but the PX is like K-Mart and the MCX is like Nordstrom’s. So I got school supplies and t-shirts from the PX, and dress shirts from the MCX.

      Where we are now, the NEX is 5 minutes away and prices are competitive on hard goods (due to the high active duty population?) so I usually go there first. But our boys are growing so fast their clothes need to be essentially disposable, and the NEX doesn’t carry stuff like that. We drive 30+ minutes to Old Navy to buy $5 pants my son will wear for 6 weeks.

      • Ha! That explains my wardrobe. The only clothing items I’ve bought at the exchange over the last two decades have been shoes.

        It must be a convenience factor, too. Our Wal-Mart is 10 minutes away and the exchanges are a good 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile I can combine a Goodwill donation with a shopping trip.

    • Jeff

      I don’t know why you think prices are skewed towards retirees, I’m a retired E-6 and I really can’t afford to shop there. After the 55% pay cut at retirement 10 years ago it made it twice as hard to go there. We couldn’t afford it on active duty, so I REALLY can’t afford it now, plus the fashions are not what my family wears. I am still shopping
      @ Target, Wally, & thrift shops.

      • That’s my point, Jeff: the exchanges are carrying products which are more likely to be bought by older people, and the prices are correspondingly higher for those who are likely to be able to spend more of their discretionary income.

        Perhaps my comment would have been better using the words “elders” or “seniors”.

        • Diane

          I don’t know where you are getting your facts, but as a spouse of a retiree with 24 years of service I can assure you, we can not afford the higher prices either. Discretionary income is not even in my vocabulary!

        • Janice Martin

          Clothes and purses for sure too high. As an officer’s wife I thought then, when my husband was active duty, and now and often wondered how the Exchange expected enlisted families to afford it. The Commissary is beneficial but the Exchange is only a convenience when shopping at the Commissary and only for some specific items like; grooming, gardening, office supplies, etc. I think you get the point.

        • Teresa

          I am also retired and can’t afford the exchange prices! I have always thought it better to shop at Walmart, Kmart, Meijers, etc. Even Pennys when there are sales are cheaper! Don’t blame it on retirees, cause I can’t afford it either.

          • I am a retired E-6 as well. I live 45 miles from the nearest military installation, Dyess Air Force Basce, Abilene, TX. after trying to shop at the Exchange there, they do not carry a wide variety of mens clothing but mostly suited for younger 19 year old crowd. Their prices are not geard for the military members or retiree. Better off shopping at Academy or WalMart for Jeans and shirts. Has anyone even looked at The Exchange Catalog? Really, wht enlisted person can afford a $1000 watch? The Exchage/AFEES are
            Not Looking out for the military or Vets.

        • Rich

          What “retirees”, “seniors” or “elders” do you know who can afford Exchange prices, these days? What part of “limited income” do you not understand? Even with no state tax can I afford their prices, especially when I can get identical items at Wal Mart or Fry’s Electronics and not have to drive a 110 mile round trip to the closest Exchange and Commissary.

        • Foster

          As a retiree, I can assure you I have no interest in Polo, Ralph Lauren or other brand name merchandise carried at the Exchange or any other store. Look at who the target audience is, 20something single sailors looking to dress to impress.

        • Ruth

          Sorry I disagree, my husband is a retired Colonel and I never shop in the Post Exchange, why would I bother when I can get much better bargains at my local stores. The Commissary is even beginning to be less than the price break that it used to be.

          • Freddie Silva

            The point is not whether you shop there it’s if you can afford to or not.

        • rickb54

          Military guide, you certainly have no idea what your talking about. I retired in 1986, and I am a senior. I can say that unless I purchase big ticket Items, I don’t even bother to look in the PX any more. Prices have been to high for many years. Even the tax free gimmick is no reason to shop on base. Wal-Mart and other stores have a better variety, and are more reasonably priced. Unless I was overseas, we avoided to PX. Even then in some locations, Germany and a few others we shopped outside the gates.

        • Freddie Silva

          I am not a retired officer. I do not have discretionary inome.


          This statement is not true by a long shot. I’m a Senior, a Retired Veteran – E-6 with 20 years of service to the US Navy and I can’t even afford the prices the BX or Exchanges have. I don’t have a whole lot of money I can just throw around. I have to make sure my wife and I can sustain our way of live until the next payday comes around. I have four more years left before I can start drawing SS, but back in May of this year I suffered a stroke, which left me unable to work. I use the commissary whenever and however I can in order to make our money stretch enough. I believe price is what everyone here is talking about. When you have a family, things you buy can really add up pretty quickly. I’ve read other posts here and they speak a thousand words when it comes to our purchasing power at the BX or Exchanges across the US. I always thought these entities had our best interests at heart, but I believe they don’t, which is why we will shop at places that will give us the buying power we all need. A lot of families across our great nation, including me and my wife, are trying to make ends meet. Not break the bank in the process. This is just my opinion.

        • Margaret Turner

          This elder/senior sure can’t afford the px’s unless I shop the

          “reduced by 50/80% racks or the wine and beer dept’s. The commissary is not much of an improvement either.

          • Margaret Turner

            By the way, ask your local retailers for military discount and save more.

      • Maggie C Palmer

        Not only are the prices too high for retirees, the clothing selections are for the much younger shoppers.

    • Working Widow

      The Exchange prices have always been too high for the enlisted members as a general rule……when we were active duty, I was told the Exchange bought to suit the upper echelon officers since they were and are the only ones who can afford to shop at the Exchange whether retired or active duty. I am the widow of a retired Air Force MSgt and I still can’t afford to shop there. I do most of my shopping at Wally World & Target……..they have good sales.

    • Cat Gee

      to retirees? No, remember we only get 50% of base pay once retired (and none of that tax free money either). I buy NOTHING at the Exchange unless it’s a loss leader, I simply can’t afford it!
      It’s really sad that I can pay less for things off base, even with the 8% sales tax.

    • Lars Day

      I don’t buy the stuff at the AAFES exchange because they are overpriced and have OLD Stock. No One at AAFES knows anything about retail sales. They are a bunch of idiots that should be replaced by those in the civilian sector who know what they are doing. How long can this AAFES SCAM go on? Oh by the way we are retired so NO the exchange is not skewed towards retirees! When you can go to best buy and get a much better price one immediately knows that AAFES is a Scam.

    • MSgt Dave

      AU Contrere on the retiree thing. We can’t afford them either. It seems AAFES has stocked the stores for Majors and up not for the poor enlisted pukes family. ALso, retirees only make half of what the normal member makes. Plus, we have not had a significant raise in years. I can find clothes cheaper at TJMAX, Kohls and even JC Penny. Also, the sizes they stock are not for the older crowd, like many I don’t have a 36′ waist any more, sorry to say.

    • RICKY

      I am a retired Enlisted also and very seldom shop at the PX which I live fairly close to. Even when I was in the Army I thought the PX was geared more for the Officer than the Enlisted. For clothes my wife will shop at the local Goodwill or else we shop at KOHL’S for both of us. The majority of our food shopping is at the Commissary which is right next to the PX. For gas we bypass the PX gas station and go to Sam’s because it is generally 10 cents or more cheaper per gallon than on base. I do try to support the Exchange but with the prices it is very difficult.

    • ralph

      right on. I visit the Coast Guard exchange on Cape Cod and the prices there are for the most part as high or higher than in civilian life. They say they will meet any lower price on anything but that does not seem to me to be serving a military exchange objective.

    • Audra Stern

      I am a retiree and I cant afford the PX. CW-3 Ret.

    • Helen Pries

      I am a retiree and the exchange prices are not skewed to retirees. I believe it is skewed to the officer and their wives. The prices are horrible.

    • Paul

      I agree that when comparing prices with military exchanges you must compare apples to apples like the exchange employee previously mentioned. Prices are high just like everywhere else. I purchased nothing until I check online for best pricing. I usually don’t need the item today and can wait a week until they ship it. A CG exchange I was in the other day had a huge liquor department and when I called the exchange to complain it was explained to me that alcohol is the big profit maker for exchanges. Last Christmas I watched as cart after cart after card of liquor left the exchange. I do believe that if all exchanges which change their business model to become more like Target or Wal-Mart all would be better served. Those that can afford a $300-400 handbag don’t need the exchange to save $50-$100 because if’s obvious they have the money to pay retail for it. Exchanges should be for junior enlisted and junior officers both active, reserve and retired. Senior enlisted and senior officers don’t require and exchange to shop.

    • Leonardaj

      I am a retired CPO and always try to shop at the NEX and Commissary first. I went to the exchange Friday at at Smokey Point to purchase some Hanes, V-neck T-shirts. I usually get the extra value package which has 6 or 8, for around $12. Couldn’t find them. I asked a nearby sales associate where they were moved to. Much to my chagrin, she told me they no longer carry that brand but have some in BVD brand. I checked them out; 3, BVD V-neck t-shirts for $18. I can’t afford those prices and, don’t believe the exchange is geared to retirees as much as they are geared to certain customers preferring to have high priced “name brand’ merchandise at a lesser cost, so they can “keep up with the Jones’s” and impress their non-military aquaintances.

    • wlbond008

      Sorry but the are NOT skewed toward retirees unless you are an O3 or above. This could be the same story I read in 1980. The exchanges have always been higher than the civilian world. The reason? – The buyers don’t understand their customer base. An E1-7 or O1-3 can’t really afford all the extras. I still remember buying my VHS recorder in 1982. The same brand, model and the serial number was only off by a couple thousand sold in Walmart for LESS than the BX price. In fact the difference was $4.92 SAVED by buying off base. Some will say how can I remember the price from that far back? It cost me EXACTLY one month’s pay. 33 years and nothing has changed. Well the actual cost of items has dropped but the exchanges catering to the high end customers is the same.

    • Sue

      We are retired and cannot afford the Exchange inventory and my goodness the selection is so limited who would buy half of the stuff they offer anyway. When we were overseas we lived shopped at yard sales, thrift shop and the good ole Sears Catalog when we wanted something a little nicer but cheaper than the exchange. We enlisted always thought they must have had officers wives doing the purchasing for them…because no enlisted family could afford the name brand articles.

    • Bmsadler

      The mens clothing dept imo is catered to the single servicemembers. They have more discretionary income vs their married peers since they live in the barracks and dont have kids or a wife to support with their paychecks. They seem to be the ones buying the expensive name brand stuff.

    • Barbara

      Kate, we are retired and I assure you because of the prices at the Exchange, we don’t do much shopping there.

    • Terry lingrel

      Sorry but the prices are to expensive for this retiree. Every thing I seen is geared for the senior officers. I don’t think even an 02 or an 03 could afford to shop in the exchange.

      • James McDonald

        I am 61 and been retired almost 20 years from USAF. I do not shop exchange either. I can’t afford 100 dollar sunglasses or do I need them. You can’t even find a decent pair of shades for under 50 dollars here. Like most every item in exchange at Maxwell, is way over priced.

    • Roger

      Skewed towards retirees? Whoa. I’m one of them and I even think their prices are high and the selection is “eh.” I live relatively close to a Marine exchange, Army exchange , and AF & Navy aren’t too far off. Every once in a while there’s a good sale but other than that, the Class VI store is the last good deal!

    • Charles Waters

      I have trouble with your “skewed to retirees” remark.. We have less money to spend than most active duty personnel. Besides, most of the items in the PX are geared to families, which most of us no longer have. Place the blame where it belongs, on the buyers. They generally are not military, are buying for multiple PXs at one time (bad idea), and we, as patrons, have no input. When is the last time you were asked what items and manufacturers you would like to see in the PX. The PX at MCRD Parris Island (the one I shop) is geared to selling to the recruits families and seemingly care little for what we Retirees and Active Duty want or need.

    • Monty

      Retirees? I don’t think so. I’m retired and we almost never buy clothes (or much of anything) the the Exchange. Everything is way too pricey. Walmart here we come!

    • Charles Troutman.

      How can you say that the Exchange prices are skewed the retired? I am retired and have been since 1976 and I have never found the and indication of such. I fully agree that the prices in the exchanges are beyond what the average person, speaking from an enlisted view point. can afford. I also agree that carrying high end brands is a waste. The average shopper normally does not buy high end clothing. On top of that those items can normally be found in town at lower prices. For these reasons my wife and I DO NOT shop at the exchange.
      I think you are pushing it to say you need to shop at Goodwill.



    • CwoLdoRet

      I am a 60’s to 90’s retiree when we had reasonable pricing where even an E2 could afford to shop there. These days, Target, BJ;s, and many more stores are cheaper than the exchange. How the young military enlisted can offord shopping there baffles me. We do not shop there except when some items that we are are interested in are on sale. The only competitive pricing is at the Package store, Garage and the commisary which is also going downhill in a different manner. (their selection is getting smaller) It is more expensive and the people running them know it… They sell pretty expensive excersie shorts and shirts at the uniform shop that the command requires they wear for PT. We used to get those items issued to us. It is a shame to those in authority that condone what is going on…

    • DonB

      Kate, I am retired and I totally agree with your assessment of the prices. Quality grade is a couple of steps higher than I need and the prices force limited purchases. This has been true even when I was on active duty.

    • Freddie Silva

      Retirees cannot afford NEX. We usually shop at Wal-Mart,Sears and etc.

    • Walter Stolpa

      I felt for many years that the merchandise offered for sale at the BX was not appropriate for enlisted pay checks. The quality is very good but the prices are not. When we were overseas we shopped the BX because there was no alternatives. Here in the states Target, Kohls, Home Depot, WalMart and many others are more economical. With my military ID I get 10% off at Home Depot and Lowes. Even with sales tax savings, the BX is not a bargain.

    • Leah

      My husband is retired military, we are raising a grand child who is now in school and have an adult daughter with disabilities living with us. We buy nothing at the exchange. It is over priced, 45 minutes to the base and offers nothing that we can use. We don’t buy name brand items, and we have always been thrifty shoppers for the sake of practicality. Retirees live on a tight budget just as we did when we were young and struggling with a small family. We shop around on the local economy and utilize online shopping from many things. School supplies and clothing are much more affordable at Target, TJMaxx and Old Navy than at the base exchange. Groceries are much more cost effective through the local grocery store where items are laid out more efficiently and there are more price options within the store. We used this practical approach when we were in the military, Now that he is retired, it makes sense to continue to save money as prices continue to climb but the income has been divided in thirds.

    • paul brice

      I’am a retired E-8. You feel the exchange is set for retired people. Think again. We have much lower income than when we were on active duty. The retired cost of living raise are less than active duty. I agree the exchange carries a lot of expensive line of clothing and very few lower cost items. I use Target and Wal Mart a good deal of the time. It seems the Exchange does lean towards the senior officers active and retired.

    • John

      I started in 1966 when the exchange and commissary were still run by military members, and the phase in of civilian control was underway.
      I was told that the new rules from congress prevented the system from undercutting the local community by more than 10 percent, and I have seen the selection erode and the prices climb ever since.
      To me, the exchange system is designed to force the military members to shop in the community instead of providing TRUE cost savings to the members. Better off a SAMS club or walmart than at the commissary, and better at Amazon on line then he exchange.
      Sad and sorry that the system seems to rip off those who can least afford it, such as high priced uniforms ONLY available at the exchange instead of at the uniform shop, where one could economize with used uniforms.

    • kegler299

      Sorry but sizes are for the young not retired. And retirees are on a fixed budget that does not keep up with raising prices. I can’t figure it out.

    • EPascoe

      As the wife of a retiree I can assure you they are not skewed to us. We as a family of 7 always felt that they were being operated for the field grade officers and senior enlisted (mostly E-9). We were never able to shop there even OCONUS we shopped catalogs and I did sewing for my girls.

    • Gene W.

      No they are not. They carry nothing in a size I can wear and I have grandchildren and soon a great grandchild. I retired and started teaching high school math. I was still raising a daughter when I picked up the care of two very young grand daughters. I solved it on EBay buying clothes by lots. Good quality, still in style and budget stretching. Still do.

    • Tom

      WRONG! The exchanges are not set up for retirees!! I am retired, 40 plus years, I don’t even go to the exchange anymore. Theres no reason too. All of the clothing is for the younger, well paid enlistees. However, I don’t see many of them in there either. To be honest, I not sure who the exchanges are for. Employees, I guess.

    • AF Vet

      Having retired from the Air Force, and now the Exchange, the clothing is supposedly what the younger shoppers want. I’m not sure how they got their ratings, but I know when the wife and I were brand new to the active duty military, there were plenty of good, quality, INEXPENSIVE clothes at the Exchanges. Not so anymore. We agree with you, they are way too expensive. The only time we get any is when they go on markdown.

    • tomur2

      We are retirees. We also cannot
      the prices at the Exchange on most things. IF I am shopping for electronics or other bigger money item, I shop all around to get prices then on line with the exchange to price them. They will usually get my business due to the tax difference. As far as everyday items, when I see something on sale I still check it out.
      My husband retired as a Msgt in 1972. That plus another job after using all of his earned GI benefits to complete college, he retired in 1992. Incomes were nowhere near what they are today so we count pennies out of necessity. The Exchange prices have never been something we could ever afford. I felt extra bad when new people come in thinking ‘good buys’ and head for the exchange. It is worse for them with there low income.
      I am very thankful for Tricare for Life and the security of campgrounds in some parts of the country – however campground fees are not cheaper if you are in a program for campgrounds. It’s just locations when using Military hospitals or clinics.

    • Charles Crocker

      I am a 31 year retired Marine and not only are the exchange prices too high but I am 73 years old and the styles do not work for myself or my wife. We have found Walmart or Target seem to have the most reasonable prices with enough styles for us that work. I do not know any retirees that shop at the exchange.

    • David W Gregory

      It is unfortunate that the Walmart Stores are cheaper on prices than the Military Exchanges, nowadays. I go to the MCAS Exchange and some of their prices are much higher than other local stores and living on a pension and social security, I am priced out on some goods and products that I would normally buy. I bought a pack of tee-shirts and the price at Walmart was $2.00 less than the Exchange. It is high time that something be done about their pricing.

    • Richard

      Personally, I do not think that the Exchange prices are geared towards the retiree’s. As as retiree, I quit shopping the Exchange years ago due to their outrageous prices.

    • Paula

      We are retirees, and Exchange prices are out of our reach! Can’t shop there for clothes, and only shoes when they’re clearance priced. Don’t know who can afford their prices, but it’s not retirees.

  • Theresa

    I don’t live very close to any exchanges (20-25 min makes it a special trip), so we only really use it for expensive purchases where the sales tax makes a big difference – electronics, an expensive purse I’m using for 10 years, some pricier baby gear, etc. I’ll make a trip for some Christmas shopping, too. I do Agree that they don’t seem like a good everyday store, but Target beats their prices on household goods, toiletries, kid stuff, and is much more convenient.

    • Mary

      I so agree with Theresa comment. As a retired E8 I do not find myself ever shopping in our BX unless it is a very high end item which saving on the taxes makes a difference. i.e. electronic, expensive handbags, furniture or during the Christmas shopping period when prices are slashed drastically. I don’t even find myself saying let’s go on base to shop for anything as I can find it at a much lower prices in our small town at Walmart. Which is truly sad as they sure do not need any more money. I believe BXs state side need to be reviewed by location and really looked at their products, prices, and cost of over head to maintain them. It is hard to believe they are breaking even most months. Could this be an area to decrease stateside and place the funding in some other much needed area supporting our sates side military? I say yes.

    • Rich

      Theresa, You can shop online at and usually save a couple of bucks. If you are a Prime member, you get free two-day shipping. Most of the time, I do not pay sales tax. The NEX here in Great Lakes matches prices, but you usually can’t find what you are looking for because this place (although it’s the Quarterdeck of the Navy) needs a lot of renovating to bring it up to the other NEXs nationwide.

  • 4M

    I’m thrift store all the way, but the exchange has its business model.

    And it makes sense when you look at the market as a whole:

    Sure there is Hawaii, Coronado, and Bethesda, but there are way more Montgomerys, Norfolks, and El Paso’s.

    Walmart is just outside of the gate, why compete with Walmart? You know what’s not outside the gate, Macy’s. We have a wide range of incomes in the military, from a single boot to an O6 Orthopedic doctor with 29 years in, and although the median income is closer to the booter, his needs can be met very close to base where if you live in Clovis NM you might be driving for a while before you find a store that sticks US Polo Assn let alone legit Polo.

    So a mid range product line with dabbles into higher end stuff that sells makes sense (and law of diminishing returns demands a higher profit margin on these things).

    The Nex/AAFES cannot compete with Walmart in price or selection, and when there’s a Walmart just outside the gates of the bulk of our bases its best to differentiate.

    And let’s not discount desire.

    I practically live at the base thrift store, but I’ve been wanting to buy my spouse a nice purse for a while (we are fossil people at best), and looked at the purses at the exchange. I was shocked to see them cost so much as I see them under the arms of so many women (again I don’t know how to purse shop so I look to see what people around me are carrying so I understand the style). I’m sure that trend carries over into other areas of the exchange.

    People, especially young people, want to spend money and use items rather than experience as a status symbol, and if the exchange doesn’t cater to that it’ll lose sales to someone who will, and at least with the exchange part of the profits go back to the base (although my local base thrift shop gave about 1/4 of what my local exchange gave and it’s much smaller and open way fewer hours).

    • John

      You are Sooooo wrong. The exchange system was instituted to be a walmart type savings for the military members and their familys. It STILL can if it was run efficiently and get RID of the civilians who run it and replaced them with military people who care.
      The exchange system has enormous buying power just like walmart, and can present the same type of savings buy buying service wide in bulk .
      In short, the exchange system NEEDS to compete with the walmarts to give the military member the BEST possible savings.

      • friend

        So true…AAFES used to be the largest chain in the nation. I remember the rumor that the prices were so high because off-base chains sued them for selling cheaper products…what a joke, it’s called free market. AAFES needs less managers earning high salaries. Selection is crap and always has been. How about ditching them and having Walmart take over!

      • 4M

        Just like Walmart? There’s simply no way that’s a possibility.

        $10B in sales for AAFES vs $374B in sales for Walmart in 2008.

        That’s not even in the same ballpark.

        AAFES cannot compete with Walmart, and given the location of the vast majority of our bases it doesn’t need to. The low priced goods are sold at low prices just out of the gates at many of our bases. And in these same rural areas the exchange finds its niche by catering to the need for nicer things.

        At Cannon AFB I can hit up Walmart and Dollar General all day long in Clovis so why would the exchange chase those sales making near zero profit (remember Walmart buys lower than AAFES can and sells at a much higher volume, even if a town is 50% military/retiree, the Walmart in that town will have twice the potential customers).

  • M Meier

    I have NEVER found the Exchange (AAFES or NEX) to be a good buy on anything aside from electronics and shoes. And they are no longer a good deal on electronics. Shoes (name brand ones for running, etc.) are becoming debatable. It is much better to shop at Walmart or Target, especially for clothes. I have many dress pants that I purchased at Walmart for $16 that wear better and have lasted longer than anything bought at the mall, the Exchange, or independent clothing stores.

    AAFES and NEX need to SERIOUSLY revamp what they sell and the prices!! Except when we were overseas and could not get what we wanted off-base at a reasonable price, or needed uniform items, we have never shopped at AAFES/NEX.

    • Joan White

      I must say that I agree with you. I remember that about 40 years ago I couldn’t really afford socks for our daughter, age 4, at the exchange
      because they carried top of the line brands at $ 2.00+ a pair !!! Not in our budget… so things haven’t changed over the years.

  • LaVonne Milne

    For nearly 30 yrs I’ve said the same thing about the exchange merchandise. It’s not geared towards retirees, that’s for sure! It’s not even geared towards the average woman. I almost fainted when I saw $400 purses!! And for ever and a day- a young airman and his new family struggle to make ends meet and most of them never learned how to properly manage their finances- so let’s stick all this fancy name brand merchandise in the store and see just how far an E-3 pay will stretch! Oh but don’t worry- you can charge it! Ugh!

    • C.G.

      Well, let’s get “political”! Former President Jimmy Carter paid his “political debt” on the backs of military folks; he ‘sold’ the NEX & AAFES retail systems, including the gas stations, to Corporate donors, so now the only real benefit is the Fed &
      State sales tax exemption, except on gasoline purchases where we now pay the same as civilians, and even state sales tax are slipping away as some retail outfits have ‘kiosks’ outside the retail store where sales tax is charged, i.e., AAFES Travis AFB, CA. Let’s face it! A majority of your Congressional Reps are not military vets and, so, have no understanding of what NEX & AAFES purpose is or was. Consequently, they don’t support us.

  • lexicon5

    I am retired and I buy on-line a LOT…and the first place I look is the on-line Exchange store. No sales tax and free shipping is enough of an incentive to buy. Granted, the brands I’m interested in are not always offered but a lot of times they are.
    I’ve often wondered how active duty can afford the prices. The over priced stuff I’m not interested in anyway.

  • sfcpete

    NS Newport RI has only name brand clothing for sale (Polo, Lauren. Adidas, Scott for women’s clothing) ALL way overpriced – these brands can be purchased at Macys for much less, if one really needs high end clothing.
    Every day items I.E. automotive can be purchased off base for much less.
    Whom ever is contracted to run the NEX evidently does not care about the military member’s who are shopping there only profits.
    NEX knows that because of the high student population assigned to NS Newport they have a captive audience.

    • cbussius

      I agree with you 100%. The fact that a lot of the students are foreign military, doesn’t help, since to them the prices are a bargain. I walk through the Newport Exchange every 3 months when I go go pick up my medications and can’t believe the prices…

  • roy

    how much does the AAFES purchasing agent make? is it upper level and who approves the buying? lobbyists and senior officers / sgm

  • Chuck Pierce

    This has been a problem for a great number of years. The buyer and the administrators are people who make the most money and buy for them and SM who look like them. Need to think more about the E1 to E6 and the O1 to O3 who are just beginning in the military and have young families.

  • Pat

    I don’t have a problem with the prices and if you can’t afford shopping at the exchange because your retired its not the prices. Really what do people shop for? We only buy clothes or medical items and not big ticket items. Enlisted not being able to afford to by at the exchanged because prices have aleays been unafordable? Don’t know wahat planet people have been living on. Walmart or Old Navy – cheap and junky items. You have to pay taxes on the outside.

    • Bryan

      Pat. I think you are out of touch or yet have to ouch disposable income. I’m a GI brat who grew up on military installations in the 50s and 60s. My parents found shopping at the PX too expensive then. I spent 21 years active duty and found prices for most everyday items cheaper off base. Another 21 years as a civil servant and I haven’t changed my mind. Yes, there are some items that can be purchased on base cheaper. No tax helps but it’s offset by the surcharge. Compare prices for similar and like brands off base…I thinkyoubeillbe surprised…then shop online and be prepared for another reality check

      • Dan Kelly

        There is NO surcharge at the exchange. You’re thinking about the commissary.

    • Dan Kelly

      Pat; horse crap. All those off base store carry the same Dickies, Levies, etc. that the exchange does.


    The PX pricing is absurd. I don’t know when the rule to sell items10-20% below local comparable civilian stores was changed, but they are now penny wise-pound foolish. If they think selling pricey goods to those on active duty or reduced income retirees is appropriate marketing, they need to apply for work at Neiman Marcus.
    Since the purpose of AAFES is to provide funding for MWR, one must ask the question, why are they broke, where did the money go, are there too many highly paid employees at AAFES, who is auditing them? When sales are off, customers aren’t happy, smart businesses make the appropriate changes

  • Jeff C

    We have suffered higher prices every since the Congressional mandate,or law, was passes years ago to force exchanges to price goods to stop severely undercutting the “local” stores. Prices have been to high every since. Now most go to the Super Walmarts to save money. All we need is to get congress to let AAFES go back to the old way of purchasing and pricing and I would likely by more at exchange again.

    • Jeff C

      Sorry about Grammer. Smart phones not so smart sometimes.

      • Dave

        Love the irony

    • mogul264

      I, too, remember the pricing differential to outside stores being better years ago. Today, the items offered are priced about the same as outside stores (esp. Walmart!). The only benes we now get is no sales taxes! Being a large size (3XL), I also cannot find any clothing, belts, etc, in my size REGARDLESS of price! The commissaries are similarly priced. The base is over a 45 minute drive through downtown areas of TWO large cities and several intermediate ones (Dallas & Ft.Worth area) from me, so I now rarely make the trip, as it isn’t really worth it!

  • Yehudah

    I am a Navy brat (Vietnam era), Navy Veteran, and currently work for the Navy Exchange System. I’ve seen probably 40+ years of Exchange shopping as a son, father, grandfather, active duty, veteran, and employee.

    There is no doubt that if you compare apples to apples, the NEX is the best deal on the block. You just can’t get a better deal when comparing items product for product.

    If you are a bargain shopper, then of course, you will find better deals elsewhere. The exchanges don’t cater to bargain shoppers. Each exchange caters to their local demographics.

    The article in my opinion is skewed; the author is a financial advisor (check her web page and blog). Of course she’s going to complain about the lack of bargains and targeted clothing for her 13 year old daughter.

    I look for deals, but on the whole, I want what I want, and the Exchange provides that at a good value.

    Step back and really look at what we are talking about here.

    • Walter Holy

      You are joking I’m sure!!!! I broached this topic in the 70’s and it has gotten worse. Walter Holy CMsgt (ret)

    • Kate

      I wish I could agree with you, but I don’t. I just looked at a pair of pajamas at the local NEX this week. I can get them cheaper at Macy’s because Macy’s offers regular and generous sales, where the NEX discount off MSRP is paltry.

      My aversion to paying $25 for trousers for a 13 year old isn’t because I’m a financial advisor, it is because I am a sensible parent whose family lives on a military family budget. News flash: people like me are supposed to be your customers. I don’t know how many other comments you’ve read, but I’m not alone…

    • MajTom

      As an employee, I would love to see you address in more detail some of the other concerns people have raised:
      Purchasing agent pay.
      Frequent remodels (later post)
      Legal requirements.
      I don’t know what position you hold, but any insight would be valuable this discussion.

  • shooshanre

    Back in the ’80s we could go to the exchange, any of them Navy, AAFES, CG, and find great items at great prices. Now the prices are not close to other main stream stores, but a much higher. They have name brands and quality but unless you are an Officer or a long serving Enlisted they are prices out of reach. I see that the stores get remodeled quite often. Maybe it they looked at lowering the prices and stopped spending money on useless remodels, we could afford to shop there more often. I’m retired and I don’t think they are pricing for me.

  • Sandy Brewer

    I retired in 1992. Even then, prices at chain stores and other stores on the local economy beat the exchange for everything but essentials (boot polish, PT running shoes, etc. Vitamins were a bargain, but that has gone by the wayside. If you want top brand names, the Exchange may be a bargain, but for everyday use it’s just another overcrowded mall. For those restricted to a base because of transportation, or special training restrictions, it serves a purpose, but otherwise, we shopped the local stores when we were stateside, and often, even overseas during my 22 years of service. As a retiree, we live many miles from the nearest exchange, and it’s not worth the trip to shop there.

    • Jay S

      I also retired in 1992. I never could understand why you could find 10 or 12 models of Rolex watches in the exchange but couldn’t find day to day affordable clothing. Takes me 1 1/2 hours to drive to the nearest commissary and exchange so I don’t go often because Walmart usually has them beat.

  • guest

    We have bought exactly two things at the exchange…ever. My husbands MacBook (which we priced matched to a sale at Best Buy where it was 250 cheaper then PX price) and a refill on the SodaStream. That’s it. We COULD afford to shop there, but sorry, I’m not willing to overpay for items. Things like electronics you can price match to an ad, but clothes…shoes etc it’s next to impossible.

  • Announcer Ace

    We couldn’t afford most BX prices when I was an active duty MSgt. When we were assigned overseas, we always took catalogs with us. Nowadays, we shop on line. I would suggest everyone compare prices, even on the name brands.

  • duddly

    I have noticed over the years that the prices in the bx and commissary have gotten to a point that a lot of times it is cheaper to shop off base, yet they want us to shop on base to support them. Well if it was economical to shop there I wold, but a lot of the monitary support they would get from congress has been taken away so congress can have their stuff. Our country supported the military when I went in but now it’s a “thanks but see ya later sucker”.

  • TG

    Haven’t been able to find lower prices than competitors on most AAFES items in years. I’m tired of the “no taxes” hype, which they obviously believe is an incentive to shop there. I can get a 10% or better discount at several other stores and save a drive.

  • metfanlou

    Want decent clothing at a decent price for children. If you have one, try Old Navy. Anyway I seldom go to the bx as local big box and other stores are better and Lowes and HD give you a 10percent discount on top of sales prices with your id card. Before buying a new washer my wife sent me to the bx for comparison shopping. No way the bx could compete with the machine I got at Sears. I didn’t try a price match as the bx didn’t have the brand I bought. Anyway I went to the bx on a holiday weekend and the place was deserted. I think me and one other person was in there. In metro areas the bx is not needed. The bx return policy is excellent if you need to use it.

  • V hunter

    I think they should change inventory & prices. Sometimes it is nice to buy designer items without paying tax and at slightly lower pricing than if bought at actual high end retailers. However that is speciality shopping, they should carry a little of that but the bulk of stock carried should be at prices closer to where most of their customers regularly shop- (Walmart, target, Sears, ect)

  • Yehudah

    Wow, most of you still don’t get it.

    The Exchange buyers buy what sells by location. If the lowest brands sell, then that’s what they stock.

    The Exchange system is not for bargain hunters. If you are a bargain hunter, you’ll always find a better deal somewhere else. You can almost never beat Amazon Prime (for anything).

    The Exchange system has a feedback system; they supply feedback cards at checkouts and customer service counters. Each feedback card is read and responded to up the chain as appropriate. If an exchange gets enough negative feedback regarding something, it gets acted on. Period.

    Maybe instead of complaining about the Exchange System, you should step back and do some research. You’ll find that it’s an excellent benefit for those who choose to use it.

    Fact is, the Exchange System is constantly growing in sales (dipping slightly in some years, and in some years advancing in double digits). Sales don’t lie. So it would seem that the complaints registered in forums like these aren’t a majority (but a miniscule minority).

    The Exchange System can’t be all things to all people. If you want K-Mart, then go to K-Mart.

    I’ll stick with the Exchange – it’s worked for me and my family for more than 40 years.

    Complainers are going to complain.

    • guest

      Really? last time we were looking at TV’s same model was 1k more at the Exchange then at Sears. How is THAT right? I could have price matched (didn’t get that model) but why should you have to go through that hassle when the REGULAR non sale price was 1k lower at a typical resale store?

    • rickb54

      As an exchange employee you are being paid to toot the PX’s horn…anything you say is suspect….

    • vick welsh usn ret

      Sorry you are wrong , who buys $200 to $300 purses? Coach should not be a exchange item. The exchange buyers determin what goes in stock. They do not offer merchendise for junior enlisted so you can say they stock what sales! if its not in the store how can it sale!

    • vick welsh usn ret

      I forgot to mention you say exchange cannot be all thing to all people. If that is true it needs to be closed. It’s purpose is to do the very thing you say it cannot do! You comment if you want Kmart go to Kmart show how far out of touch you really are, we don’t want to go to Kmart but we do not all have the money to shop at the exchange!

  • Living in Okinawa where we do not have Target or Ross makes it very tough. I am the spouse of an E9 and as I search for shoes amongst brands like Coach, Michael Khors, Nine West, Sperry, etc….I find myself really missing Target and Payless. Then I head over to athletic wear and weave thru racks of Nike and Under Armour wishing I had an option like Champion. At least the base gym is free, right? Anyway, I completely agree with this post. Regardless of paygrade, clothes are not appreciable items and these brands are definitely for people with expendable income which is most likely E3 and Up or retirees.

    • Monty

      I, too, was once stationed on Okinawa. While there you have to use the Exchanges because that is about all that is available. They didn’t have the Internet then so I’m wondering if you can use it there now? Probably can heh?

  • Stephen

    Exchange prices are high because the services are demanding more $$$ from their gross revenue to underwrite their MWR programs. They feel pressured to do so by DOD, who continues to reduce appropriated funding for MWR.

  • L. Maurer

    The Navy Exchange and Commissary do business on government property, therefore they don’t pay federal, state or local taxes like a local business. Why then are their prices so high? To tell a customer that they pay no tax on a purchased item makes no sense. The merchandise is overpriced to begin with. Therefore their merchandise should be within the price range of any pay grade. Sailors are duped into believing they are getting a bargain at an exchange. Somebody is making big profits off the military exchanges. The need for profit should not be a factor in the operation of the exchanges.

    • Buck

      I’ve been saying the exact same thing for decades ! Unfortunately nobody wants to blow a whistle or ask the exchange system any questions for fear jeopardizing their retirement….

      Bottom line, the exchange system operates with impunity and can’t be audited by an outside entity. They know they’re untouchable and like organized crime fear nothing. Am I wrong ?

  • AF(Ret)atScott

    Funny how one person says “The Exchange system is not for bargain hunters.”
    The exchange system is for the military patrons, who they are no longer serving. The bulk of patrons are mid and lower enlisted, who they are branding and pricing out of being able to shop there.
    As 22 years enlisted and now 13 years retired, we go to the exchange for a few items that are still fairly priced, but do the bulk of our shopping off base. My fear is that Congress will put the Commiissary system under the Exchange system, and drive away our reason for shopping there, too.
    I worked for the Exchange for one week, where an incompetent manager (who was moved to a job they weren’t qualified for due to their old position being cut) drove me to quit, as did my predecessor. And facility repairs nearly a year old (from when I reported them) are still unfixed.

  • rickb54

    I retired in 1986 as an E6. Even then the AAFES was overpriced. Now its worse. WE almost never shop there and we are only 5 minutes outside Fort Hood.

  • rickb54

    Oh, and don’t forget a lot of civ stores give retirees discounts, AAFES tax free gimmick, only matters if you purchase a big ticket item.

  • Paladin48

    I stopped shopping for clothes and appliances at the CONUS years ago. They are not competitive with Civilian stores. Maybe NEX needs to focus on out of CONUS markets where there a fewer competitors.

  • john_z

    I wish it was a little cheaper, but I like shopping there because I don’t want to deal with the riff-raff you find at a walmart.

    • Jim C

      Some very good comments from what looks like varying backgrounds. I am retired Navy FLT/MCPO and actually had two tours of duty in the NEX system and two in the Commissary system, from 1965 thru 1993. I have been retired for over 32 years and we never shop at the Exchange because of selection and prices.

      Back in my day, the Exchange management was Supply Corps Officer’s and a hand full of Enlisted, depending on the size of the operation. Today, aside from the NEXCOM Master Chief I don’t think there is a single military person in either the Exchange or the Commissary. These civilian Managers earn sone very high salaries and the lack of military leadership takes away the common sense approach to management.

      I am in the military uniform business but I do not sell, don’t even try, to sell to NexCom, they do not seek nor welcome competition. The Officer /CPO style uniforms I manufacturer could be sold in the uniform centers for far less than currently offered. So, based on the fact they do not welcome competition, I do not waste my time talking to them. This tells me a lot about the overall management for all areas. I am sure uniforms is not the only area on autopilot.

  • john_z

    I go through a lot of athletic shoes, almost always New Balance. the exchange prices are always much better than, road runner sports, REI, Sports Authority or any of the other stores. They may not have all the colors but I can sacrifice on that for a good deal.

  • Mark L

    I stopped shopping at Base Exchanges years ago when they started stocking high priced name brand items. I couldn’t afford them on Active duty and I certainly can’t afford them as a retiree. I don’t know how the average serviceman can afford to shop there. I can go to Kohl’s, Macy’s, Penney’s or mall outlet shops and get better bargains and good quality. I do still shop at the Commissary as their prices are still affordable.

  • Jim Alston

    As retirees in a military friendly and oriented area, we live within a reasonable commute from several exchanges. We rarely shop there as almost all the brands and styles can be bought at much cheaper prices downtown, even considering the sales tax savings. I think the exchange buyers pay too much attention to brand name and ethnic or age appeal, and too little to quality and across the spectrum income levels that shop there. As military medical care for retirees has disappeared and the exchanges not a bargain, about the only benefit we receive from the military is a retirement check (which goes less further as the economy grows and prices explode).

  • dfk

    This is my experience with the PX/BX system: They bring in expensive clothes, but if you don’t find it at Macys and you wait, you can get some bargains. I do NOT buy their instore brands—they break almost before you get home. I have bought some expensive items with them, i.e. free standing air conditioner and power washer. But with the new system, you can’t order items that the store carries if they happen to be out, so I no longer buy anything like that with them. I have also seen lots of young enlisted and civil service who are buying the Michael Kors and Coach purses and they have to be spending everything they earn. And that’s how they like it. I was taught to buy on sale and good quality but no waste. So I will NEVER own a Michael Kors purse. What a waste!! I do believe the system needs to be fixed, but no one in any part of the government believes we know what we are talking about. They think we don’t understand their jobs.

  • Bob

    This is not a new problem. I recall being stationed in Calif in 1958 and shopping at the NX only to find the prices way out of an enlisted persons pay range.

  • Barry Wilson

    I seldom shop at AAFES because it’s not worth a 45 minute trip when Kohls, Target and Wal-Mart are 5 minutes away. Don’t blame the exchanges either, sometime ago they were mandated to set their pricing within 10% of the big box stores in the area of operation. You should find a slight savings but don’t expect great savings like the exchanges of 30-40 years ago. We have to help prop up big corporate America as well as small business mom and pop shops. How un-American of you to feel your deserving of discounts not also tendered to society as a whole. As for those who retired and don’t work, shame on you for being lazy. You should work another 20+ years to provide a better retirement income and not expect to survive on military and social security income alone. You should have planned on $5-6k a month for retirement so shopping at the exchange and paying for your medical care should not be a problem. Otherwise down size your living standards. Retired after 26+ years as an enlisted member and not depending on the military to survive. That would be just poor planning on my part.

  • Paul

    My two cents on the PX. I always thought that you are supposed to get better deals there than an outside source and it’s not true. The prices are usually about the same price as you would find anywhere else. Okay we don’t pay taxes, got it,but this shouldn’t be part of the cost savings. The store doesn’t pay taxes either. Question? Who tracks all the revenue the exchanges make. Are we to believe that all net profits go to MWR. If the company is making a lot more than what it needs to run, then that should be used to reduce the prices of items in the store. The PX should be first choice for all service members.

  • Sailndayz

    Our nearest NEX is 80 miles away. So we son’t much rely on the Exhange system. Back when we used Travis AFB I was troubled by the crappy quality of the off brand men’s socks. Buyers need to learn that Big and Tall means 2XLT, not just 2XL. Today’s men are getting taller. NEX needs to become responsive to our growing demographics. Basing sizes upon NEX Pilipino employee sizes is silly…….

  • Dave

    Been saying the same thing for a long time (referring to AAFES). I have even compared prices on more expensive items–TV’s, cameras, etc–and still find them cheaper at WalMart, Amazon, etc., with or without sales tax and shipping.

  • N. Davis

    We are retired, but live about 200 miles from the nearest exchange of any size. We are not about to fight the Detroit (Selfrige) or Tampa (MacDill) traffic to go to the BX. By the time we have traveled to and from, the expenditure in fuel offsets any savings We have a local ANG exchange, but the variety of merchandise is, understandably, small due to lack of floor space.

    Ordering through AFEES catalog is all well and good, but I find shipping faster and better bargains with Amazon and Wal-Mart even considering shipping charges and local sales tax (Wal-Mart).

    If I were stationed on a military base quite a distance from any major shopping,
    as I was at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in the early 1970’s, The nearest large shopping area was Boise 45 miles west.

    There is no one size answer to fit all circumstances. When stationed in Denver in the late 70, my wife more often shopped on the local market taking advantage of coupons and local weekly ads. We did very well thanks to her.

  • LSE

    I have said this for years. Although I can probably afford them, I am not looking for $300+ purses and wallets and name brands. Who do they think they are serving? My past comments have fallen on deaf ears at AAFES.

  • SGM(R)

    Back in the days you could buy good quality, inexpensive, locally produced sports wear, (Soffe for one); now the troops have to buy in the “Nike Shop” at the PX /BX at much higher prices. Are there kickbacks or other “benefits” involved?

  • Marianne Beeson

    The first time I ever was in an exchange was 45 years ago when my husband had just finished boot camp. I remember thinking it resembled more of a high-end gift shop than what I was expecting. Frankly, from my last visit to our exchange, it doesn’t seem to have changed. Whatever bargains they have are few and far between. I’m not sure who they think is shopping there, but we couldn’t afford it then and we can’t afford it now. In my opinion, an exchange should be geared more toward the lesser pay grades, but then again I have always felt that they should be given the first chance for base housing.

  • Charlie

    I look at the BX. Usually when I am going to the commissary. But I buy very few things there. Only when I KNOW it is cheaper than other places. But most things are way more expensive than anywhere else. And that is even taking into account the tax

  • Tiffany

    I’m having a hard time understanding what everyone is complaining about. Sure, I don’t go to the NEX for all of my goods, but it certainly comes in handy when I need quality items. Besides, they price match, so when I go to buy Christmas presents, bicycles for my kids, nice clothes for events, makeup, etc. it makes a substantial difference. It’s not Walmart, but do we really need more of those????

  • rwmorr

    When I first started working for the PX aboard MCB, Camp Pendleton, after retiring in ’85 after 20 yrs in the Corps, we did a survey of outside stores and found that the prices were geared towards the pay grade of O-4 (Major) and above. That is one reason that I shop at Wal-Mart and close-out stores in San Ysidro and Lake Elsinore.

  • Bob

    Another advantage to shopping for big ticket items at local stores is you are able to negotiate the price as well as delivery and set up. They appear more than willing to Make A Deal if you have cash.

  • Frank Anthony Santo

    I never shop at AAFES unless purchasing high cost items, or if I’m buying a few bottles of wine or spirits, and that’s because you save the additional tax cost. Perhaps AFFES and NEX should be more subsidized to offer greater savings and more variety for its authorized customers.

  • Cricket

    I have a perfect example of the PX (granted I’m talking Army, not Navy but I believe the problem is DOD wide) overpricing their items.
    I bought a bathing suit at WalMart. Paid $12.99 for it. Went to the PX and found the SAME EXACT bathing suit—same brand, same size, even the same color!–for $49.99!
    If that’s not overpricing, I don’t know what is! $37.00 higher than the same suit off-post.

  • Frank Anthony Santo

    I never shop at AAFES unless purchasing high cost items, or if I’m buying a few bottles of wine or spirits, and that’s because you save the additional tax cost. Perhaps AFFES and NEX should be more subsidized to offer greater savings and more variety for its authorized customers.

  • R. Small

    I keep reading articles that say congress is evaluating the need for the Commissary and Exchange system based on reports of sales in different areas. from the comments I’ve seen, it looks as if someone is intentionally setting up the system to force people to buy outside so the system can be seen as unnecessary. I remember being an E3 during the Vietnam war and my wife and I could afford the exchange. I’m retired now and only buy at the Exchange if it is truly convienient after I shop next door at the Commissary.

  • Tom D in SC

    The BX is no longer a one-size-fits-all type of store–This ain’t the 60s anymore. I find that one must have multiple sources so that you can get the best product for the money spent. I try to stay away from Walmart; I consider it nothing but a Chinese supply house where cheap goods are readily attainable. But then, Chinese made goods is becoming a part of life–like it or not.. The exchange touts itself as a bargain store and I think it is, if you temper “bargain” with the top of the line items they sell. If you look at the price tag, they always have two prices: the regular retail price and the exchange price, so there is a bargain–just that its an expensive bargain. So, the BX along with Amazon, eBay, Sears, JC Penny, and yes, even Walmart and Target all should be considered when making significant purchases. Got a heck of a deal on my Poulan lawn tractor at the BX. Exchange online had the only bicycle that had 21-speed gearing and fenders (yup, it’s Chinese). But K-Mart has one of the best prices and selections of Dickies work pants around here. So, it is what it is.

  • Barbara

    The clothing products available in the Navy Exchange near me certainly to not meet the needs of enlisted or retired members. I cannot think of a single one of us who needs items such as a $300 Kors purse, a Tommy Bahama $98 shirt, or Ralph Lauren items. It appears those who supply the shelves have lost sight of their target market which should be the average military enlisted and their families.
    We served 21 one years in the Navy, raised 5 children and are now retired. with15 grandchildren. I would like to see a return of the reasonably priced items for the average military family that will help fill our needs first and more closely relate to the budgetary constraints of military pay and family life..

  • (RET) Sauceda

    I am also disappointed with their prices; Especially with there so call sales. As a retired Military, we have decided to shop at other places. Hope board members next time they sit down at there annual meeting and get their bonus checks: will consider us.

  • Old Colonel Bob

    I have had access to the exchange system for 72 years and can dang well afford anything they sell, but the only thing I have bought there since I retired in 1969 is
    insignia and a note pad. I feel for the young airmen and their families with children.
    A $ 400 dollar purse is ridiculous to carry around twenty dollars and food stamps.
    Lowes and home depot will price match and give a 10% discount to boot. Aldi’s
    will beat the commissary and Walmart will price match Amazon. I don’t miss the Exchange since I gave up smoking in 1967 when Cigarettes were $1.90 a carton.

  • swabjockey

    I agree with the basic logic of the article, prices are escalating beyond lower-pay grade personnel or users. Also, retirees are on budgets due to many sets of circumstances. My wife was looking at pocketbooks/purses. She came back and said “forget it, too expensive, no middle-road stuff”. Deals on electronics are being caught up on the outside, unless the PX/NEX has a sale one happens to catch.
    For basic stuff, like underwear, sox, etc., I’ll head into the uniform shop and buy the prison system stuff. Just as good as name brands and a heckuvalot cheaper. Tax savings can be nice, but not if you can’t get down into the price range you want. Just a tad too high-ended often-times

  • Chel

    I am a retiree with teenagers and we can not afford the prices at the Air Force rxchange …… When bras go on sale .,… Maybe. But clothes and shoes? Never
    We have bought a TV from there and a printer and both were cheaper than than Walmart
    The expensive makeup I used to wear Lancôme one my favorites is cheaper than Dillard’s but I usually have a to saves up for a year .,.,… Coach bags are not necessarily. A required item for a teen queen all they wanted was a good adorable decent condition purse…..

  • Donald Carlson

    Don C. We quit going to the B.X. and Commissary many years ago because the only thing we could get cheaper is tobacco products and we don’t use them. Yes we have to pay sale taxes on non food items but making the trip is not worthwhile.

  • David Kennedy

    As a retired E-8 I still won’t shop the exchanges. I feel their selections and prices to be way out of line for the average enlisted person who I think probable shops at WalMart, Target, etc because of prices. No wonder the exchanges (for any of the branches) don’t do well. Top brands way overpriced for the average serviceman. It would be interesting to see how officers feel, both junior & senior. I can’t support the exchange the way it currently operates.

  • Bob Peetz

    It’s geographical – when I was in Oklahoma, local retailers like Walmart and Cress always had prices cheaper than the Exchange, but the Commissary was cheaper or about the same.

    Now that I live on Whidbey Island in Washington, the Exchange is competitively priced and there is no sales tax – an immediate 8% savings. The Commissary is by far the cheapest place to buy groceries – especially organic – even after adding the surcharge in.

    The Exchange is geared to younger shoppers, but If I have a need for something else, thrift stores or on-line retailers make up for it.

    Both places make living here affordable to a retired E-7.

  • Charles Schmidt

    After 45 years of exposure to both Navy and Army/AirForce exchanges the only deal I see is tobacco and I dont smoke, In states where there is a sales tax the exchange post savings amounts because at the exchange you dont have to pay the tax. I just bought a washer at Lowes wo $75 less than the one in the exchnge even though I paid a 6.5% sales tax.
    My advice is to try Sams, Costco, Walmart, K Mart, Target, Marshalls, Bells etc where you you can really get a deal. On large items try I don’t know about the Navy but in the Air Force the items carried in the excange were always driven were driven by the Officers Wives Club. It is hard to understand why exchanges would ever carry camel saddles, German beer steins and Kimono dolls in a state side exchange bit cant find a pair of pants with a waist larger than 38 inches fpr those of us who expand as we age.

  • M.E.Lovelady

    I have written to headquarters (PX) several times to offer suggestions like – WHO does the buying for the PX’s?? No reply They (?) just don’t get it!! I’m speaking of the women’s clothing. There are racks and racks and racks of junk! It’s so crowded and stuffed together, impossible to get thru the maze. Such a beautiful new PX at Camp Pendleton but other than the expensive purses, the other merchandise is not displayed attractively – disappointing. Also, I do notice that the prices have increased considerably in recent years. Too bad.

  • CMsgt C. Schmidt

    Part of the problem of evaluating the price of itemsi in the exchanges is that soerone edits the comments sent in rather than publish them. Dont tell anyone but that is not patroitic.
    PS: Lowes and HD give 10% off on everything including appliances that are sold at the exchanges.

  • vick welsh usn ret

    Someone mentioned it was geared to retirees not so. Prices are too high and have been since the 1970’s. It seemed to be priced to the junior officers then now it is priced to O4 and up. Less than 20% of merchendise is priced for junior enlested, so they shop at wallmart. I think if if they did not price match I would never shop there!

  • Frank

    I buy all my clothes downtown. Prices at the BX are expensive. Most stores give military a 10 % discount and that covers sales tax.

  • James King

    I served from 63 -84 in the Navy. The exchanges were always stocked for the officers not the lower enlisted who really needed it. I still go into the exchange at Nellis AFB and I see that after 50 years the goods being sold tho good quality in most cases are still out of reach of the lower ranks. This explains the long lines at the Walmart outside the main gate.

  • George Graham

    I served from Sept 1957 to 1985 and rarely shopped at the exchange, usually when I had an emergency purchase I would stop at the exchange, planned shopping was always off post, prices and goods a little out of my reach, guess things haven’t changed much since 1957

  • Lee Rux

    Thirty years as a AAFES Manager I don’t know how many Meetings with two complaints prices are too high or too low. The E-3’s And 0-6 Wickes can’t be happy.

  • Loren Driskell

    I agree with the folks that have found better pricing off base. Our BX has prices that can be beaten all over town, at Walmart, Kohl’s, etc., etc. I wish this was not the case, I have been retired for almost 30 years and I hate to see what our youngsters have to pay that must support a family on their pay and these prices.

  • Keith

    This is what I know. Way back when I was a private in the late eighties I bought a TV at the PX and asked a bunch of questions one that has stuck with me is that the exchange not only doesn’t pay taxes but also has everything shipped space-A. This means they do not pay much in shipping charges. If you do not believe me just find something they are out of and ask when it will get in. The answer will always be they do not know. In this day and age everything is tracked so why do they not know. Simple they never know what truck will be dilevering what. Why aren’t these savings being passed on to the consumer as they were when I was younger. Simply put they want to make money and they want to make as much as they can.

  • Karina

    When we lived near Shaw AFB in SC, there was no Target or department store within a 45 minute drive, so I appreciated the convenience of the BX (they’ve got a much nicer, newer one there now). When we lived by the Pentagon, though, I couldn’t see the point of the Exchanges on Henderson Hall, Fort Myer, or Bethesda. I could see a case for JBAB and Quantico where there are no stores directly off base or within 15 minutes really, but that’s about it. The stores are convenient for finding something “appropriate” and last minute to wear to a function/ event on base, and for that kind of last-minute/ need-to-find shopping, they aren’t bad, but no one needs a $300+ purse in a pinch. The Exchanges should find alternative uses for that floor space, for instance, using the space as a market for featuring products made by Veterans/ spouses. As for me, I used to purchase all of my beauty products at the Exchange but I no longer do. I did because they’re generally a bit cheaper than buying off base, but I noticed that the creams (Philosophy) were a slightly different consistency and color–they were older products, so they weren’t as effective. It makes a huge difference to have fresher face creams. It’s a little more expensive to buy direct from Philosophy, etc, but at least the product is fresher (and it’s more convenient).

    • Kate

      Karina, I’ve been considering switching to Philosophy because I’ve heard great things. I checked out the prices at the NEX and while the regular prices are slightly lower, the Philosophy website has sales and coupons all the time, making them significantly cheaper. Be sure to sign up for their mailing list to get their best deals.

  • Judith

    The Navy Exchange is convenient when I need a few personal items, and I have already went to buy gas. I cannot save money at the Exchange. The coupon offen is a ploy to get people to buy a lot with the false impression, that the customer might get more than 5% off; which rarely happens. Even with no taxes, I do not save money, and I can save much more using other store advertising with product Mark downs combined with 20 and 30 percent coupons. There is a clientele who buy volumes of handbags. The workers alert their friends, and the deals are gone before Jane Customer can arrive to try to take advantage of the lost leader item. The only time I might feel like I get a fair deal on merchandise is Black Friday. Basic merchandising tells you that it is not what you “save,” but what you spend. I advise changing to that strategy to where you offer merchandise at more affordable prices, and then you will be certain to increase sales and your profits. The exchanges are a profit driven business. You need to develop a better merchandising technique. Sales will then increase. I cannot afford coach shoes, and that’s what I see when I first walk into the shoe department. Hire me. I will analyze your business model and turn around your sales/profits — so we can shop at the exchanges — regularly!

  • Chris

    JC Penneys,Sears, Old Navy, etc..always have discounted sections and sales that beat the Exchanges!Exchanges are geared more to retirees and singles with disposable income.

  • Kenneth A

    I was asked to do a survey about the navy Exchange in Mayport Florida. I asked are u sure as I do not buy clothes in any exchange. Too high. 80 dollar Polo while TJ max, JC Penny is 29 dollars. Jeans 50 dollars while off base they are usually around 30. I only buy Beer and alcohol and sometimes beer cheaper Wal Mart. I think young sailors with no cars and those attached to ships are their target!

  • Deena Mickelson

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article – I’m retired Navy and I don’t shop at the NEX because the stuff I find on the racks that I like are way too expensive. The affordable stuff is usually crap I can get for 20% of that price at Target. I shop at the outlet stores and thrift stores instead.

  • Jan

    There is a HUGE difference between AAFES and NEX. We shop at NEX. AAFES is on par with Walmart. Their stuff is junk and falls apart quickly. AT NEXI find things that are of good quality and price.
    Please do not change the NEX into another Walmart. There are Walmarts everywhere.

  • Kathleen Belton

    As a retiree I can not afford the clothes at the AAFES on the base that I use. I was told by the manager that they have to use name brands. I know the are not catering to the enlisted. I have been retired from the US Navy for 20 years. Never have understood the pricing on clothing. My other problem is that the AAFES here does not give us a break an gas prices, as per the CO they are not allowed to compete with the prices out in town.

  • kjstirling

    I started working for the Navy Exchange Service Command earlier this year. I’ve been an avid shopper of the NEX for many years prior to that though – as a young enlisted Sailor, as a Naval Officer and now as the spouse of an Army retiree. I’ve never had a problem finding the right-priced items at the NEX and it has always been my plan when shopping to check the NEX first. It’s not always the lowest price (in most cases, if they NEX has what I’m looking for, it’s the lowest price as well), but it is usually close and I don’t pay sales tax. I always take that into consideration. But you all may think my opinion skewed since I work for the company now. That’s understandable. But overall, when you compare basket to basket, you will save about 20 to 24 percent on your purchases at the NEX. Obviously, there are some higher-end items. We do have to cater to a huge demographic of folks. But, we like to think we are a little bit of everything. We are a little bit of Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and 7-11. Some things may be less expensive at other stores, as expected. However, the other thing to consider is that 70 percent of the profits go directly to Navy MWR programs, which is where the “support Navy quality of life programs” comes in as part of the mission statement. The other 30 percent is used to recapitalize into our stores and programs (NEXCOM also operates Navy Lodges and ships stores). One thing I’ve noticed is that every store is different and we do try to put merchandise in the stores that will be right for that area. I hope you all will at least check us out when considering your purchases. And don’t forget, the NEX will price match. Thanks.

  • Henry Williams

    Soldiers and families at Fort Sill have some of the highest prices in the state as far as I am concerned..etc Post Exchange and Gas. There is not a good explanation when Gas is just as high on Post as is off Post, and in the cities and town around the area is less.

  • Henry

    What does the Regulation state as far as prices for the military on and off post? There was a time when an individual had to show an ID card to get gas on post.

  • whaack70

    I would like to relate one example of how the exchange is not geared for the lower ranks. At Great Lakes the students coming from boot camp are confined to using the Fleet Store for the first two weeks. Lay’s Potato chips have a suggested retail price of $3.49. This is exactly what the exchange charges. If these kids were allowed to go off base and use the commissary, the same bag of chips is $2.19 at the commissary. This is just one small example of the exchange taking advantage of the people they are supposed to be helping.

  • PhilC

    Couple of comments:
    1 – People who complain about living on half pay after retirement. You mean you don’t continue working? I call bull on the half pay statements.
    2 – Electronics are typically over a year out of date and being sold for the original BX/retail price.
    3 – Clothing is usually cheaper off-base, even brand names.
    4 – I only go to the BX to baseline the price, if they have the same product. Then buy it off base. Price matching is a pain.

  • doreen boyer

    as a Vietnam widow my DH never had the chance or time to submit his pay payable to me upon his death -its been a financial struggle ever since- I could never afford anything from the base exchange unless the items were on sale -now at the age of 80 I don’t even bother to shop on base anymore -Walmart’s is good enough for my budget

    • doreen boyer

      is the truth not good enough

  • gewheeler

    As enlisted then officer both active and reserve, I have two comments (I will use exchange to indicate NEX, PX, AAFES, etc.) :

    First: To the statements concerning retirees being so wealthy that the exchanges are designed for them. Take your Basic Pay after 20 years and cut it in half. Could you live on that? And spend your money at the exchange? Do not include BAS, BAH, Combat Pay, Flight Pay, Hazardous Duty Pay, etc. because those are just incentives to make you want to continue to serve in the service and DO NOT count toward retired pay. Only Basic Pay is counted toward Retired Pay. If your calculated retired pay is less than one third of what you take home (usually, way less) – that is the way it is supposed to be! The government (congress, et al) does not want to pay retired military personnel appropriately for the years of sacrifice given to the nation. I still ask the question – Can you live well on 50% of your Basic Pay? So, of course, after retiring, a retiree MUST work to make ends meet.

    2. For the many years I was in the service, I (and my family) seldom shopped at the exchanges. It was always too expensive. As mentioned by many others, Walmart, K-Mart, JCPenney, and all of the other stores got our money because, with three children, they were always in need of clothing which could not be purchased economically at the exchange.

    I once worked with a Reserve Officer that had been tasked by the base CO during one of his two week Active Duty for Training orders to find out who was shopping at the His exchange and what could be done to increase patronage. The officer found that 95% of the patronage were Senior Officers and a few Senior Enlisted. He found that Junior Officers and most Enlisted shopped off base because they could not get what they needed for a fair price at the exchange. He asked me the question: “Have you ever noticed that there is almost always a Big Box store within three or four blocks from the main gate of the base? Why do you think that is?” Duh?! He put together his report, presented it to the CO, was thanked for his efforts, and, a year later, observed that no changes had been made. Can you imagine why no changes were made? I can. You make your own conclusions.

    I truly believe that the exchange system(s) have outlived there usefulness in serving those that need it – the junior service member.

  • DickMac

    For many folks, bargain hunting may be necessary. For others, extreme bargain hunting is a game. If you are in one of these two groups, you can find products for less than you can at the exchanges (or Walmart or even on Amazon). No retailer can have the lowest prices on every item and survive.

    Certainly, you can find better prices at a thrift store or consignment shop. But it does not make sense to compare used clothes to new clothes. And not everyone shares your price/quality choices.

    The exchanges have to try to serve customers of all ages, tastes and incomes. And they do it in locations where no other retailers would choose to be. And they contribute a large portion of their profits (70% for the navy exchange) to MWR.

    So while they may not provide everyone’s desires at the lowest possible price every time, they do a pretty good job providing product many customers want at competitive prices.


    I agree with most of the comments, however there are several people saying retirees can afford to shop at any of the exchanges. That is hog wash..I don’t care is you live 5 miles from a base it still doesn’t make sense to me. My feeling are the government is still not supporting the retirees, especially the Viet Nam Vets. Look at it this way, the exchanges said no taxes on products, but with their pricing is costs more than if you payed the local taxes. Like other have stated you can also get 10% discounts from numerous stores off the base. When I served in the air force We had five boys.( 3 adopted) We could shop in the commisary for a fair price, as time when by and nearing retirement shopping there was no longer as much of a value.
    My take on this is the Government is pricing us out so they can eliminate another benefit for all vets, retirees and Active duty personnel. They are going back on numerous promises made to all of us. God Bless us all who struggle…

  • Conley

    I’m a retired USAF E-7 who lives near a Navy Exchange–10 to 15 minute drive. It’s as if everyone commenting has read my mind. The clothing selection is limited, geared towards younger people, and too expensive. Electronics are also expensive. Unless there’s an item on sale that I decide to purchase specifically from the NEX, I have no reason to walk in the place. Besides, I have to pass Walmart–5 minute drive and Lowe’s–10% discounts to retired military anyway, so going to the NEX often is not worth the trip.
    P.S. They recently expanded the Navy Exchange here. There’s now a larger selection of “nothing to buy”.

  • Retired Army

    The military Exchange today is no different them a commercial company. The days of going to the Exchange for low prices are over. On most items now day’s you only save local sales taxes. I was told off the record that senior Exchange management bonuses are based upon the dollar volume of sales and there is no incentive to save Service Members money.

  • Margaret Turner

    In the 60’s and 70’s the Exchanges were great for active duty and retirees. We never heard of Coach or Michal Kors etc. . We could actually afford to shop there and my family always looked well dressed,cosmetics were reasonable . But now as a wife of a retiree, I shop at places like Burlington, or Ross as well as thrift or consignment shops.I don’t know who can afford these “Name” items. Are people getting money for shopping for civilian friends and families?

  • Jay Roland

    The Exchanges have been over priced or incorrectly stocked since I was an Air Force 2 Lt in 1959. We were seldom able to afford the products. Even recently we visited an Exchange and saw no improvement.
    Thank you for pushing the issue,
    Dr Jay Roland, Lt Col, USAF Ret.

  • Juan Moreno

    Retired Marine in Corpus Christi ,Texas. I use the Navy Exchange often. I asked the store manager why they didn’t carry, Ix or 2X for women. He said they didn’t sale and they would have to sale them at a reduce price. We have a lot of retire military personnel which is the majority. Our wife are not the size they use to be 20,30, 40 or even 50 year ago. I as well as others have to shop elsewhere with our wives for other items that are much cheaper off base. Your store manager have a big turnover so there’s something wrong with the system.

  • howardhelton

    I agree AAFES prices are high and the merchandise is generally high-end, but nothing is skewed toward retirees! They do not even carry trousers — of any brand — in my waist size. Regrettably, I have gained weight and added inches to my waistline, and most retired men I know suffer the same problem. On my first trip to an AAFES in Germany, the first counter in the door was the watch counter. The first watch I saw was a Rolex priced at $6,500. I was appalled; anyone who could afford a Rolex could have gotten in their Mercedes, driven to Switzerland in three hours, and bought two. My point is that the PX does not need to be selling Rolex watches because the Specialists and Sergeants, who make up more than half of the Army, just don’t make that kind of money. I have thought for a long time that the Army should call Target and Wal*mart and offer to sell them the business. And, I know, there are some of you that would “skin me alive” for thinking that way. But here is the rub: The military needs Exchanges because the “profits” are funneled to the Installations to support the Morale and Welfare activities. DoD has cut the budget so much that installations rely on Exchanges to provide funds and volunteers t provide labor that ought to get paid. And now, THEY are planning to reduce the number of soldiers in the Active Army strength to less than it was before WWII; who are they trying to fool? Talk about risking national security? THEY are providing aid and comfort to foreign enemies by demonstrating such a mental disorder.
    God save The Republic because our National Leaders are selling us out. They like their new-found popularity so much that they refuse to state the obvious, “the Emperor has on no clothes.”

  • howardhelton

    I agree AAFES prices are high and the merchandise is generally high-end, but nothing is skewed toward retirees! They do not even carry trousers — of any brand — in my waist size. Regrettably, I have gained weight and added inches to my waistline, and most retired men I know suffer the same problem. On my first trip to an AAFES in Germany, the first counter in the door was the watch counter. The first watch I saw was a Rolex priced at $6,500. I was appalled

  • howardhelton

    In my opinion, it is Yehudah that does not get it. Must be a member of a flag officer’s family, to discount the anecdotal evidence of so many of the “miniscule minority” who assert the Exchange system prices are too high.

    There are two exchange systems in the military, CONUS (stateside, the “Lower 48”) and OCONUS (overseas). The CONUS system benefit is basically the exclusion of state and local sales taxes, which (according to range from 12% or more in Arizona, Alabama, and Arkansas; to 0% in Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon, for an average of 7.7%. The top 10 states charge more than 10%, the bottom 10 charge 6% or less.

    Exchange buyers buy what they are enticed to buy by suppliers. I assert what sells can be found on the “clearance racks”, about 3 months after initially stocked and usually out of season. Generally buyers go for “one-time deals” that do not get repeated, no matter how well they sell.

    The research data “Yehudah” suggests show the major benefits are for those who can “afford” to shop at the Exchange. Yes, the Exchange “can’t “be all things to all people”; however, it should focus on providing goods and services priced for the largest segment of the military population, in the Active Army (according to 2010), that would be the Privates, Specialists and Sergeants (E3-E5), a total of 757,500, or 53% of those who served between 1990 and 2010.

    CONUS prices fluctuate along with the general economy and patronage follows the price curve; but, OCONUS patronage is directly proportional to the dollar exchange rate. When the exchange rate is high, soldiers and their families are likely to shop on the local economy, sales in the Exchange plummet and managers are replaced. When the exchange rate falls, patrons return to the Exchange, sales rise, and managers are awarded big annual bonuses. But regardless of sales, there is one adage that hold true in both places: “If it fits, it’s ugly.”

    OCONUS Exchange Councils (with a member representing every unit commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) provide invaluable feedback to Exchange managers, who work diligently to serve customers. But somewhere between the managers and the Buyers there is a disconnect because, generally, what appears on the racks reflects neither the tastes nor the budgets of the majority of Exchange customers.

    “Complainers are going to complain.” One may infer from that comment that complaints are ignored, and suggestions for improvement fare about the same. “If they want your opinion, they will give it to you.” Frankly, in the military, criticism is neither wanted, not appreciated. Military customers vote with their pocketbooks. I suspect the OCONUS Exchange gets the most votes from a “captive audience”.

    If the Exchange has “worked for [you and your] family for more than 40 years”, you are one of the lucky ones and certainly not a member of the E-3 through E5 majority.

  • retired and glad

    The PX is tightly controlled by the HQ in Dallas and those folks have lost sight of their reason for being. There is this widespread belief in the services that the PX and commissary are a part of the benefit for being in uniform. It is most widely held in the older generation who experienced the PX and commissary of old where you could get pretty good prices on most of the goods, great prices on cigarettes and liquor, and there was no tax disguised as a service charge. Those days are long gone but the belief in the supposed benefit lives on, especially among retirees.who usually have a much higher income than the serving enlisted familites, who do their shopping at WalMart, Aldi’s and other stores that are much less expensive than the on post facilities. That is if they can get to them.