I spent most of my work week two weeks ago going up and down every aisle in Target and Wal-Mart on University Avenue in St. Paul. Much of that time was spent writing down prices for a price comparison chart in today’s column, but it also gave me time to compare the vibe in each store.
The thing that surprised me the most is how many departments Wal-Marts have that Targets don’t: Live fish, notions, yarns, fabric, floral stems, fishing poles and lures, paint, paintball supplies, hunting knives and BB guns. Target has exclusive designers/collections: Thomas O’Brien, Michael Graves, Mizrahi, Smith & Hawken as well as newbies such as Alexander McQueen, Victoria Hagan, Richard Chai, Dean Harris and Monica Botkier. Wal-Mart is better one-stop shopping (about 20,000 more individual items than Target, said retail analyst Britt Beemer). Target is better for fashion, a category that Wal-Mart keeps trying (and failing at).
Observations: Wal-Mart’s ceiling is exposed beams and shop lights. Target’s is a finished drop ceiling. Before Easter, Wal-Mart had an endcap in the DVD section called something like ”Religious Easter movies for kids.” Target had an endcap for “kids movies.” Wal-Mart also had a live human-sized Easter bunny available on the Saturday before Christmas for photos. Target didn’t hire the Easter Bunny or maybe he called in sick. Wal-Mart puts its colognes and perfumes under lock and key. Target sells them off the shelf in blister packs. Wal-Mart’s greeters didn’t say hello to me when I entered. No Wal-Mart employees asked me if I needed help finding anything. Target doesn’t appear to have greeters anymore. Did they ever? But I was asked three times by employees if I needed help finding something, just on one visit. When I asked the price of Charmin because I couldn’t see it on the shelf, a Target employee shocked the heck out of me by noting that the Charmin wasn’t on sale but two other brands were and they might be a better deal. To Wal-Mart’s credit, the prices on the shelves include a price per unit, which can be very helpful if a bargtain shopper is comparing similar products of varying sizes, such as canned tomatoes. I couldn’t find any unit prices on Target’s shelves.
Once I got to the checkout, any attempt at good customer service was dropped. With few exceptions, the cashiers at both discounters appear to hate their jobs. I usually try to make the best of it by saying hello first and making small talk. That beats thinking to myself, “What a jerk” because the checker didn’t say ”hello or “thank you.”
What are your observations about the discounter you like and the one you don’t? (Without resorting to class warfare, please.)