Target, Walmart and More Retailers With the Best In-Store Shopping Experiences, According to Consumers

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American consumers have a wide array of choices when it comes to retail in-store shopping, but some specific criteria make some of these stores a better shopping experience for consumers. Thanks to a few unique touches and options, Target, Walmart and Costco take the top spots in terms of the best in-store shopping experiences, according to a new GOBankingRates survey.

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When given a choice between several popular retailers — including Costco, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Five Below, IKEA, Target and Walmart — the survey finds that American consumers favor Target by far for in-store shopping, with 36% selecting it as having the best experience. In terms of age groups, Target was more favored by the 25 to 34 age group, with 47% selecting it as their top choice, followed by the 18 to 24 age group, with 41%.  

After Target, the survey finds that American consumers like Walmart the second most for in-store shopping, with 27%.

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But what makes these big-box retailers different?

What Makes Target and Walmart Stand Out the Most?

Shannon Vissers, retail analyst with MerchantMaverick.com, told GOBankingRates that Walmart and Target have a lot going for them when it comes to their in-store shopping experience, as the name of the game with both of these retailers is convenience.

“Both stores have an in-store cafe, affordable pricing and self-checkout options,” she said. “The shelves are dependably well-stocked, the store layout is easy to navigate and there is usually ample parking. I think that even though its prices are slightly higher, Target beats Walmart because the experience is a little calmer and more aesthetically pleasing — think: better lighting, better item-merchandising, trendier design and wider aisles.”

On the other hand, Walmart often locks up a lot of its high-theft items including certain toiletries and other goods, which adds a level of inconvenience and a certain distaste to the shopping experience, Vissers added, while Target benefits from having Starbucks cafes in-store — and in some cases, the carts even have cup holders, making it easier to shop and sip.

Phillipe Leblanc, co-CEO and co-founder of Funday, echoed the sentiment, saying that the retail landscape has been previously marked by the need to one-up competitors, but Walmart and Target are turning this model upside down and putting customer needs at the forefront.

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“From wider aisles to clear signage and an abundance of options, they are taking actions that resonate with customers — in-store and online,” he said. He also noted that if one looks at factors such as their return policies and cash-back options, “they are aiming to give back control to the consumer, which is a crucial part in long-term success.”

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Why Costco’s Third Place Finish Is So Far Behind

Following Target and Walmart for the top three best in-store shopping experiences is Costco, which is notably further behind with 13%.

Merchant Maverick’s Vissers calls it “another animal”: While the bulk pricing, free samples and wide range of goods sold bring huge crowds, there are some reasons Costco falls behind the other two.

“The layout is far from intuitive, and it is not a store where you can quickly find and buy what you need. The experience can be overwhelming and daunting, not suitable for a short, convenient trip. Nevertheless, many people enjoy making a half-day shopping experience at Costco,” she said.

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She also said that Costco’s aisles aren’t labeled, and the items therein don’t always follow a particular rhyme or reason, but this lack of organization can lead to the “thrill of discovery,” with shoppers stumbling upon new items they wouldn’t have otherwise in a traditional retail store. 

The Others on the List: Stores Where You Can’t One-Stop Shop

The GOBankingRates survey finds that at the bottom of the list in terms of the best in-store shopping experience are IKEA, with 9%; Dollar Tree, with 9%; Dollar General, with 4%; and Five Below, with 3%.

Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, told GOBankingRates that the importance of the one-stop shop seems to have grown during the pandemic.

“I suppose it’s not an entirely new trend, but especially earlier in the pandemic when many people were really afraid to leave their homes, the ability to go to one store and hopefully get everything you need is a powerful motivator,” he said. “If you feel like you’re risking your health by venturing out, you at least want to feel like it’s worth it and want to minimize the need to drive all over town and traipse up and down the aisles of a bunch of different stores.”

In addition, he said that today’s high gas prices have probably taken over from COVID-19 as the primary motivator to minimize “the schlepping all over town.”

“Target and Walmart have also embraced the hybrid lifestyle, offering in-store shopping, online and a mix via curbside pickup. Many people seem to like the ability to order from home, work, etc. and swing by to get the merchandise right away without waiting a couple days for shipping,” he said.

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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