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Hey, Big (Discount) Spender

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By Dayana Yochim
June 11, 2002

Attention thrifty shoppers.... After nearly 56,000 shopping trips, Consumer Reports, the bible of smart shopping, has made its pronouncement on the meccas of discount stores in its July issue.

Clustered at the top of the magazine's overall rankings are Sears (NYSE: S), Costco (Nasdaq: COST), and Target (NYSE: TGT), with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and its warehouse chain Sam's Club trailing close behind. In last place is beleaguered Kmart -- not "a good thing" for the retailer who relies on the draw of exclusive brands like Martha Stewart (NYSE: MSO).

Despite the ranking, no one store dominated the overall shopping experience, which took into account value, selection, checkout speed, product quality, and number of unattended children screaming through the aisles. Scores among the bargain behemoths were pretty consistent (overall scores didn't stray far from the C to C+ range).

Still, not all discounters are for all discount shoppers.

  • If you're looking for the odd item or random electronic purchase, Costco is your best bet. But don't count on coddling customer service or quick lines.
  • Fashionistas should head to Target for cheap chic clothing and designer housewares from the likes of Phillipe Starck and Michael Graves. Though quality and out-of-stock items raised eyebrows, customers liked the overall shopping experience.
  • Focused shoppers looking for selection, speed, and customer service will be best served at Sears, noted for its selection of hardware, home decorating items, and baffling array of weed whackers.
  • Though it can proudly hang its hat on rock-bottom prices and a wide selection, Wal-Mart received complaints about overcrowding, missing price tags, and the fact that the third stall in the ladies room was out of toilet paper.
  • Kmart shoppers certainly weren't blinded by the blue light. The retailer had the dubious distinction of having one quarter of its customers cite it for being out of sale items.  

For the magazine's shopping fast facts, check out www.ConsumerReports.org.

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