Costco Wholesale Corp. scored highest among chain store retailers in a shopper survey by Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports, America's Top Stores, Costco, chain store retailers, shopper survey, Walmart, Kmart, Target, Meijer, Kirkland Signature, Tod Marks, Russell Redman, merchandise quality, shopping experience

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Costco gets top marks in chain store shopper poll

June 1st, 2010

YONKERS, N.Y. – Costco Wholesale Corp. scored highest among chain store retailers in a shopper survey by Consumer Reports.

Half of readers who shopped at Costco, representing over 30,000 shoppers, rated the warehouse club retailer's value as excellent, compared with 30% for all of the 11 chains in the poll, part of the "America's Top Stores" report in the July issue of Consumer Reports. The consumer advocacy group noted that Walmart and Kmart scored "notably lower than the other chains."

Besides pointing to Costco's low prices, survey respondents said the chain offers bang for the buck: It was the only retailer 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 [private label] products have often performed well in our tests," Tod Marks, senior project editor at Consumer Reports, said in a statement.

Though Walmart is widely deemed as the low price leader, Consumer Reports said the shoppers surveyed indicated that the prices at 10 other retailers — including department stores JCPenney, Sears and Dillard's and supercenter operator Meijer — were at least as good.

In terms of merchandise quality, only Costco and Dillard's earned better-than-average overall scores from consumers polled. In general, the highest marks went to electronic entertainment products and personal care items, while the lowest marks were given to men's and women's apparel and home decor items.

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, sporting goods and toys), Dillard's (men's, women's and children's clothing plus personal care items, home decor and kitchenware), Macy's (home decor and personal care items) and Sears (hardware).

Walmart was the only chain to get below-average quality scores in more than half of the product categories, according to Consumer Reports. For example, only about 10% of Walmart shoppers in the survey thought the retailer's children's clothing was excellent, compared with 46% for Dillard's.

Consumer Reports also noted that discounter Target's "cheap chic" goods weren't a hit with all shoppers. The consumer group said that despite Target's high-profile partnerships with names such as Cynthia Vincent, Eugenia Kim and Zac Posen, survey respondents judged the quality of the retailer's women's clothing and watches and jewelry as below average, and the chain's kitchenware, home decor, and men's and children's apparel as average.

In addition, the survey asked Consumer Reports readers about the shopping experience, particularly checkout gridlock, out-of-stocks, inadequate sales assistance and cluttered stores. Of all shoppers polled, 58% reported at least one problem, and a third had two or more complaints. Dillard's and Sears shoppers reported the fewest problems, while Walmart, Meijer and Kmart shoppers encountered the most — with nearly three-quarters of respondents who shopped at Walmart finding at least one problem.

Overall, 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, Consumer Reports said. Only 4% of customers complained of long lines at Dillard's.

Missing merchandise also was a common complaint. Readers who shopped at Meijer complained the most about out of-stocks, with 25% of respondents saying the chain lacked an item they wanted. Walmart, Kmart and Target also had trouble keeping regular merchandise in stock, and Meijer and Kmart tended to disappoint shoppers looking for sale items, the poll found.

Of all shoppers surveyed, 13% complained about cluttered displays or narrow aisles, with a disproportionate percentage of Walmart and Kohl's shoppers saying those problems hampered movement, Consumer Reports said. Walmart was also cited by survey respondents as having stores that were too big to navigate easily.

Other complaints of shoppers in the poll including the following:

• Insufficient service. Though relatively few shoppers sought help, 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 Consumer Reports readers.

• 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.

• Slow process for returns. Few respondents had trouble returning or exchanging merchandise, but the biggest difference among chains was how long it took to complete the process, according to Consumer Reports. Walmart shoppers surveyed cited this problem the most, with 20% saying that returns took more time than expected.