Consumer Reports Study Reveals Retail Favorites, Biggest Gripes

Yonkers, NY—When Consumers Reports asked American consumers which national retailer they rated top notch, Costco topped the list. According to a survey of 30,000 shoppers who were asked to rate the top 11 most popular chain stores, 50% rated Costco as having “Excellent” value.

In addition to citing the warehouse club’s rock-bottom prices, survey respondents praised Costco’s bang for the buck: It was the only store judged much better than average for value.

“In our surveys over the years, Costco has earned high marks as a source of a surprisingly large selection of goods, including mattresses, electronics, small appliances, groceries, and books. In recent years, the chain’s Kirkland Signature products have often performed well in our tests,” said Tod Marks, senior project editor at Consumer Reports.

Overall, shoppers who answered the survey weren’t always thrilled with the quality of the merchandise at many stores. Only Dillard’s and Costco earned better than-average all-around scores. In general, the highest marks went to electronic entertainment products and personal-care items and the lowest to men’s and women’s apparel and home-decor items.

Bigger Isn’t Better at Walmart?

Walmart was the sole chain to receive below-average quality scores in more than half of the product categories. Only about 10% of Walmart shoppers thought the store’s children’s clothing was excellent, for example. By contrast, 46% of Dillard’s shoppers thought the kids’ apparel was top-notch.

For all the talk about Walmart’s low prices, shoppers said the prices at 10 other retailers, including JCPenney, Sears, Dillard’s, and Meijer, were at least as good. And bigger wasn’t necessarily better when it came to the overall shopping experience. Almost three quarters of respondents who shopped at Walmart found at least one problem to complain about, and half had two or more complaints about the store or its staff.

High Scores on Quality

Four chains earned outstanding scores for merchandise quality: Costco (watches and jewelry, personal-care items, hardware, home decor, kitchenware, electronic entertainment such as music and DVDs, and sporting goods and toys), Dillard’s (men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing; personal-care items; home decor; and kitchenware), Macy’s (home decor and personal-care items), and Sears (hardware).

While Target’s “cheap chic” merchandise from its high-profile partnerships with designer brands such as  Cynthia Vincent, Eugenia Kim, and Zac Posen has garnered a lot of attention, survey respondents judged the quality of Target’s women’s clothing and watches and jewelry below average, and the store’s kitchenware, home decor, and men’s and children’s apparel average.

Biggest Gripes at Retail

In addition to a lack of sales help, the most prevalent problems were that desired items were out of stock and that checkouts were jammed. In fact, 29% of shoppers surveyed complained about long lines. The problems were much worse than average at Kmart, Walmart, and Meijer.

Consumer Reports also asked readers about checkout gridlock, missing merchandise, spotty sales help, and cluttered stores. About 58% of shoppers reported at least one problem; one-third had two or more. Walmart, Meijer, and Kmart shoppers encountered the most problems. Dillard’s and Sears shoppers reported the fewest. Some specifics:

  • Slow checkouts: 29% of shoppers complained about a lack of open checkouts or about lines creating bottlenecks. Lines were worst at Walmart (cited by 46% of readers who had shopped there), but they were almost as bad at Costco, Sam’s Club, and Meijer. Only4 % of customers complained of long lines at Dillard’s.
  • Shoddy service: Relatively few shoppers sought help, but 24% of those who did speak with a clerk said they had a tough time finding one, and 15% of those who spoke with a clerk said that the employee wasn’t well informed. Walmart and Kmart had the least knowledgeable staffers, according to the shoppers.
  • Empty shelves: Readers who shopped at Meijer complained the most about out of-stock merchandise: 25% of respondents said the chain lacked an item they wanted. Walmart, Kmart, and Target also had trouble keeping regular merchandise in stock. Meijer and Kmart tended to disappoint shoppers looking for sale items.
  • Difficult layout: 13% of shoppers complained about cluttered displays or narrow aisles, but a disproportionate percentage of Walmart and Kohl’s shoppers said that those problems hampered movement. Walmart, which operates many sprawling superstores, was also cited as having stores that were too big to navigate easily.
  • Hidden price tags: At most chains, price tags were in plain sight, but at least 12% of respondents complained about missing or hard-to-find tags at Kmart, Walmart, and Meijer.
  • Lengthy returns: Few respondents had trouble returning or exchanging merchandise. The biggest difference among stores was how long it took to complete the process. Walmart shoppers were particularly peeved; 20% of the returns took more time than expected.

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