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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — A pair of surveys shows military personnel and their families in the States are saving more than 20 percent by shopping at base exchanges, compared with off-base stores.

The latest independent survey found that the Navy Exchange Service Command, which serves the Navy and Marine Corps, saved customers a record 20.7 percent on average, not including sales tax.

A separate study of prices at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service found customers saved 21.89 percent. Customers do not pay sales taxes at military base exchanges, which would mean a greater savings at some locations.

Kristine Sturkie, an NEX spokeswoman in Virginia Beach, Va., said the command works hard to find the best prices on products and then pass down the savings to customers.

“We have a goal of saving customers 20 percent, and our buyers are working real hard to merchandise well,” Sturkie said, referring to the process of choosing which products will hit exchange shelves.

The two surveys conducted by research firms used similar methods to determine the figures. The studies, however, did not research overseas department stores.

The QRS Corp. shopped for 350 products in eight regions throughout the United States, comparing prices at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Target and Sears. The products ranged from clothing and intimate apparel to home furnishings and sporting goods.

Customers in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, saved the most at 24.83 percent, while families in Pensacola, Fla., saved the least at 19.11 percent, according to the survey. NEX was shown to be a bargain in all of its 34 departments.

For example, customers saved 39.65 percent on boys clothing and 20.41 percent on sporting goods.

Comparative Prices International conducted the AAFES study in January and compared prices on 325 items in six military communities, according to AAFES. The survey focused on the most popular products — from Colgate toothpaste to Levi jeans — sold in places such as Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and Fort Hood, Texas.

Military exchanges are nonappropriated funded stores at military bases worldwide and help fund Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs. Last year, NEX contributed $69 million to such programs, according to Rear Adm. Robert Cowley III, the NEX commander.

AAFES contributed an average of $241 million to MWR programs between 1998 and 2002, according to its 2002 annual report.

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