Discounters


Question: What’s a good sheet to sleep on in the summer and where can I buy it?

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Answer: If you haven’t tried the sheets with a bamboo and cotton blend, now is a good time. Sheets with a blend of cotton and bamboo have a wonderful way of feeling cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Target’s brand, which are about $50 for a queen set, are wonderfully soft. In two years, I have had no problems with pilling, although some reviewers at Target.com have.  If you want a crisp, almost stiff sheet, you want percale, not the softer sateen. The best deal on percale in the Twin Cities is at SIS fabric outlet (6707 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center, 763-560-0969). They have Eddie Bauer percale sheet sets for $15, all sizes. Want high-end sets? Try Tuesday Morning (locations at www.Tuesdaymorning.com) and check price tags. The sets originally priced at $250 to $450 per set are usually Italian-made and discounted to about $99 per queen set. It’s excellent quality at a good price.

 

Got a question about metro-area deals? Send them to me and I’ll try and get the answer.

Target brings back price matching policy to all Minnesota stores

Monday, June 8th, 2009

After dropping its price-matching program in 2002, Target has brought back its price-matching program in Minnesota, at least temporarily.   Last month, Target Corp. has started matching lower prices in competitors’ ads in a pilot program in the downtown Minneapolis and Medina stores, as well as 22 stores in Orlando and 28 in Denver, but Target spokesman David Fransen said the program has now been rolled out quietly to all Minnesota stores. If the program is a success, Target plans to make it nationwide in the fall.   Target dropped the program in 2002, a spokesperson said then, because too much time was spent verifying prices at checkout. This time, verification will be quicker, Target spokeswoman Delia McLinden said, because all matching is done through customer service, not at the checkout lanes.

   Under the new program, customers must bring in the entire ad, which must be current. Competitors’ prices that have expired will not be honored.

   McLinden said the policy was brought back in light of the recession. “We want to speak boldly about value and low prices and give customers peace of mind,” she said.

      Typically, stores that match competitors’ advertised prices have restrictions: no matching of percentage-off promotions, no doubling or tripling of coupons, no matching of “misprinted” advertised prices, Internet prices, nonlocal competitors, limited quantities, closeouts, or buy-one-get-one free coupons.

   Neither Target nor Wal-Mart usually will match prices within its own chain, even though products such as baby formula often have varying prices at stores within a few miles of each other. Why? It all depends on the competition nearby. The consumer’s best bet is always to hope that Target and Wal-Mart are near each other to get the lowest prices.

Target is also honoring the price match program in its Hudson, Wis. store.

Hey Target, could you do these 10 things for us?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

When Target placed full page ads Sunday asking what more the discounter can do for us, I was curious about shoppers’ responses. I asked you to tell me what me what you would tell Target and more than 100 of you did so. After reading the comments, many of them contradictory, I sympathize with a big box retailer that can never be all things to all customers. Still, a few suggestions stood out as hitting the bulleye, in my opinion.

1. Improve the quality and quantity of your plus-size fashions. Find a corpulent celebrity or designer and make him/her create affordable, fashionable clothing. Hire Kirstie Alley to model them and then schedule a fashion show on Oprah. Diets and fitness crazes notwithstanding, plus sizes are not a fad. We’re a fat society. Accept it. Now help us look better.

2. Enough with the Target Visa solicitations at the checkout. It’s annoying and it’s gotten old. Although it made Target a lot of money in interest, now it’s blowback time. Find another way to reward your cashiers. See #3.

3. Train cashiers to say “hello” and “thank you.” Reward them when they do. But let’s be real. Don’t have them ask, ”Did you find everything you were looking for?” because that’s a waste of the customer’s and the cashier’s time. Target doesn’t have the ability to answer such questions quickly. You’re not a mom-and-pop shop.

4. Make it easier to return gifts from the wedding and baby registries.

5. Train cashiers how to bag groceries. Bread goes on top. Customers who bring their own reusable bags probably don’t want frozen items placed in plastic bags.

6. Allow online purchases to be shipped to a store free. Wal-Mart and REI allow it.

7.  Show some love for the Y chromosome.  Wal-Mart kicks your butt in sporting goods, automotive, and the paint departments.

8. Drop the Global Bazaar department in January. We know that if we wait two or three weeks after the temporary department is set up, it’ll be marked down 25 percent. If we wait four or five weeks it will be 50 to 90 percent off. Nice stuff, nice global awareness, but we’re on to you.

9. Wait until November 1 to put up holiday decor. Note we didn’t say Thanksgiving. We’re somewhat realistic, but mixing Christmas and Halloween decor is just wrong. Be a leader and take a stand. Christmas fatigue is real.

10. Pay more attention to shoppers who need scooters or handicapped carts.

11. Make prices the same at all of your stores. OK, I’m just kidding about this one. It infuriates customers when they see baby formula for 75 cents more at the Apple Valley store compared to Eagan. But c’mon people, do you ask Super America to standardize its gas prices at all of its stations too? Never gonna happen.

What message do want to deliver to Target?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

In April when I wrote that about Target being about 4 percent higher priced than Wal-Mart, based on a sampling of about 30 items, hundreds of loyal Target shoppers took it personally and complained to me in writing. By giving Wal-Mart its due and naming its one clear advantage (lower prices) over Target, it’s like I kicked a member of the family when she was down.

 Target’s aim may be a bit off in this economy, but if you’d like to see it hitting the bullseye again, let Target know how it can do better. On Sunday, the hometown company took out full-page ads asking us to email our ideas on what more Target can do for us. Send your ideas to more@Target.com.

 I started small. I told them that I want the Minneapolis store on Lake Street to sell bananas, even though it’s not a SuperTarget. Other Target stores already do. On a bigger scale, I complimented them for bringing back the competitive price match policy and encouraged them to roll it out nationwide because it’s only in effect in the downtown Minneapolis and Medina stores as a test.

Let me know how you’re going to make Target a better place for all of us to shop. In other words, how will you sound off to Target?

   

Why does the low price leader (Wal-Mart) not want us to check prices?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Thanks everyone for the comments on my Cents or Sentiment column on Target vs. Wal-Mart. Your comments gave me many new story ideas. Here’s one more observation from the week I spent analyzing Wal-Mart and Target. Have you ever noticed that one of the signs behind the service desk at Wal-Mart says that anyone who is seen writing down prices will be asked to leave the store? If the person refuses, the notice says, he or she may be cited for trespassing. Obviously, that could have been me, tossed out on my ear for doing my job. But that’s not my point. Isn’t it odd that the retailer that prides itself on low prices and says that it shops the competition too won’t let consumers do their own comparison shopping?

I asked David Brennan, a retail analyst at St. Thomas, why Wal-Mart has its underwear in a bunch over comparison price shoppers when Target doesn’t seem to care. Since Target is generally more expensive by a slight margin, why wouldn’t Target be the one to try to discourage price comparisons? Brennan said that maybe a decade ago, Wal-Mart used to have dry erase whiteboards posted in their stores comparing Wal-Mart’s and Target’s prices. Apparently, Wal-Mart wasn’t always comparing apples to apples (differing sizes or different versions of the same product) so they were asked to stop. Now those price comparison whiteboards are gone and they’ve been replaced with a sour grapes sign ”outlawing” price comparisons by consumers or competitors.

Maybe Wal-Mart has a better explanation for this than I’ve given. I’ll check with their PR department and report back. In the meantime, Wal-Mart, your policy strikes me as hypocritical. You can do better.   

Wal-Mart or Target? Sound off.

Monday, April 20th, 2009

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.)