Shopping around for retail stocks? You will have a busy week of window shopping as companies such as May Department Stores (NYSE:MAY), Kohl's (NYSE:KSS), and Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN) are all set to report on their back-to-school quarters.

One of retail's most consistent players -- discount department store chain Target (NYSE:TGT) -- will also chime in Thursday. The company has been on a roll, scoring a 6% spike in same-store sales last month. Rival Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) grew its October comps by only 3%. While Target is clearly a much smaller company than Wal-Mart, it has managed to outscore the world's largest retailer on a few fronts with its cheap chic allure.

Folks love to compare Wal-Mart to Target. Now that Kmart (NASDAQ:KMRT) is gradually getting its act together maybe it'll become a three-horse race.

I have never had a bad shopping experience at Target, while I can't recall ever smiling inside a Wal-Mart. Obviously I can't lean on my personal impression to draw a financial conclusion. The numbers bear out that Wal-Mart rocks, and that's not just folks being drawn in by low everyday prices. There are Wal-Mart shoppers who are no doubt fanatical in their loyalty.

However, as an investor, I too have always found that buying into Wal-Mart without first considering Target would be the equivalent of buying the first item you see without checking a competitive brand.

While most of the valuation gaps have narrowed over the past year -- as Wal-Mart's stock has been stagnant and Target shares have gained better than 30% -- I would still favor Target. Yes, both companies trade at roughly 24 times trailing earnings. Yes, the market cap for both stocks pretty much mirrors their sales over the four past quarters.

Still, the fact that Target has plenty of room left to grow its empire is impressive to me. Just as one could favor Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) over Home Depot (NYSE:HD) -- a pretty worthy comparison on many levels -- Target's unique approach with stylistic retail has served investors well.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys shopping at Target over Kmart and Wal-Mart. He thinks that even the popcorn tastes better there. However, he does not own shares in any companies mentioned in this story.

Are you like Arrested Development's Lucille Bluth, feeling that curly fries are "poor" food, or do you embrace the ways of being miserly? Are discount department store chains a great way to save money or is not spending the money in the first place the ideal budgeting plan? All this and more -- in the Living Below Your Means discussion board. Only on Fool.com.