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Target Or Walmart? Does Perception Affect Where Or How You Shop?

May 18, 2011 · 134 comments

in Personal Finance

A recent article was written by The Street discussing who has cheaper prices, Walmart or Target.

The gist of the article is that for the first quarter of 2011, research showed  Target generally had cheaper prices than Walmart.  In addition, it was noted that domestic same-store sales for Walmart have dropped the last 8 quarters, including the first quarter of 2011.   I personally was surprised by this data because my perception was that Walmart did have the lowest prices, and that the company seemed to thrive under most circumstances.

My Own Recent Experience With Walmart

We recently went on vacation in Florida, and I had to run to Walmart to pick up a couple articles of clothing.  I was surprised because I really expected to be able to pick up some pretty cheap shorts and t-shirts.  However, Walmart’s clothing was a lot more expensive that I expected.  I did get some pajama pants for a reasonable price, but they were not easy to find, and most pairs for sale cost way more than the pair I chose.

On the other hand, I was able to pick up a pair of tennis shoes to wear in the Disney parks for a mere $12.87.  (I call them my “12.87s” …)  These shoes are incredibly comfortable, and they held up great during a week of walking around Florida.  Actually, they are much more comfortable than many pairs of shoes I have bought that were more expensive.

Why I Chose Walmart

The main reason I went to Walmart is because it was located real close to the condo we stayed in.  However, if a Target had been nearby, I probably would have chosen Target.   So, I guess I ended up at Walmart because of a lack of other choices.   I was generally disappointed with the prices overall for non-food items, and the selection for what I was looking for was not that great either.

I assumed Walmart had the lowest prices for most things based on what I have heard about the store.  I had been happy with the grocery prices at Walmart, and I assumed that other products would be priced similarly.  From what I saw during my recent shopping trip at Walmart, there are many things at Walmart that really are not a good deal.  The article referenced in this post reinforces that finding.  It is possible that consumers are starting to realize that Walmart may not actually be providing the deep discounts that people expect.  I know many people just buy things without really knowing how much things generally cost, so they can’t even identify a good deal when they see it.

Lesson When Shopping For Anything:

Basically, if you want to spend the least amount of money possible, you need knowledge.  You must know what things normally cost, you must know what is a good deal, and you have to not be swayed by a fancy display.  If you walk into any store uneducated, you are an easy target.  This is true at Best Buy when you want to be a new TV and end up walking out with a bunch of accessories you never planned on.  It is true when you go to the car lot and fall in love with a certain vehicle that has some convenient options that you don’t really need but seem really nice to have.  It is even true at the grocery store, when you just walk up and down the aisles buying things at eye-level, picking out items without checking the per ounce cost, and buying items that are displayed at the end of the aisle.  Most (if not all) retail businesses are designed to maximize their profit, and the seller will do whatever it takes to make extra money.  If you don’t take the time to learn the prices of the items you buy, then you are just giving your money away.

So which store do you prefer, Target or Walmart?  Have you assumed that Walmart has the cheapest prices on most items?  What selling tactic(s) have you fallen for?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos May 18, 2011 at 6:33 am

I think Target has better quality house brands, and I agree w/ you about perception of lower cost. But Target is harder to get to from our house, right smack in the middle of a busy intersection, and on the wrong side of the road. But for some things, ALDI beats them both hands down.


Niki May 18, 2011 at 6:45 am

I wish we had a Target closer to our house, the closest one is over an hour away. There is a Walmart in our town, but I don’t like shopping there. Target just has better quality items and I enjoy shopping there more. I also had friends that worked there, when I was younger, and it really was a nice environment and company to work for. I’ve only known one person that worked at Walmart and they absolutely hated it, but that might not be the overall feeling, but that is my perception of it.


Moneycone May 18, 2011 at 7:21 am

Target guy. I simply love their red theme! (that and the movie ‘high cost of low prices’ – had some influence).


Nicole May 18, 2011 at 8:04 am

Target. Shopping at Target is generally pleasant. The Walmart here is a super Walmart and it is poorly organized… Whenever I go I spend way too long looking for something (like a standard size square tupperware), and then end up giving up and buying it at the grocery store (because there isn’t one in any of the THREE places in the store that have tupperware, including seasonal), and, on top of that, the place is always packed with pushy people. When I was heavily pregnant I swear this lady in one of those motorized chairs was hunting me down and trying to run me over. Target shoppers seem much more laid back. Plus their store diapers don’t leak like Walmart store diapers (if it were the other way around, we probably would have spent more at Walmart early on).

Walmart is actually closer to our house and they’re both kind of on the way home from work.


No Debt MBA May 18, 2011 at 8:20 am

I’ll generally pick whichever is closer to where we are. There are also some differences in what they carry like Walmarts tend to have fishing gear but I’ve never seen it at Target. Walmart also tends to have more home improvement items. That being said, Targets near us tend to attract a classier crowd and are a nicer atmosphere to shop in.


First Gen American May 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

I like Target’s archer farms brand and there are some things that I can find at target, like oberto beef jerky for $3.50 that I can’t find at walmart. The grocery stores have it but for $5.99. I even bought the generic diapers there last week.

I’ve found myself shopping more at target lately. Clothes for one are much better quality at target and comparable in pricing to walmart. Same can be said about housewares.


Linda May 18, 2011 at 10:50 am

I rarely shop at either. Walmart fell to the bottom of my shopping preference list because the few times I was in the store nearest me it was an INSANE, stress-filled experience. I swear every large family in the area goes to that store so they can slowly walk next to each other through the aisles, making it impossible to move through the store with any normal rate of locomotion. The only exception is the small children running around and screaming. I felt like I was in a crazy house with wandering lunatics so I never, ever go there anymore.

The only Target stores in the area are similarly mobbed, but at least the crowds inside seem a bit better behaved. The parking lots outside are another matter.

There is a KMart just a few blocks from my house, so if I need something I can’t get at the grocery or drug store I walk or bike there. Maybe I don’t rely on these places because I don’t have kids. If I personally need clothing I’m more likely to buy it at Lands End or Nordstrom (for quality lingerie and other work stuff I can’t get at Lands End). I do occasionally buy clothes like jeans at Kohl’s, too.

I’ve just realized that I’ve not once mentioned pricing. I suppose I buy stuff other than consumables so rarely that I don’t do a lot of price comparisons. Then again, even if it saved me 10 cents to buy toilet paper at Walmart, I’d use that much in gas to get there, so I’d rather get the TP at my walking distance KMart or a grocery store where I’m going to be anyway.


krantcents May 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Target is more convenient!


Liz May 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Hi, new-ish to your blog and really enjoy it!

I am a big fan of Walmart, although it is quite chaotic at all hours of the day. The prices I see there are generally better than anywhere else in my area, especially for household goods, toiletries, etc. I’m in Canada and we don’t have Target (yet) – it is coiming within the next year or so and I am pretty excied because I have heard good things. It will be interesting to hear how it affects Walmart’s market share here.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics May 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I don’t shop at either one of them, if I have choose I am Target shopper. I find that Target home brand is much better than Walmart. We have both Target and Walmart within a mile from our place. But we have not been to one of those in quite some time.


Heather May 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I have not shopped at Wal-Mart in about eight years, and we shop at Target only rarely.

I know quite a bit about Wal-Mart’s business practices, both with other businesses and with employees, and that’s not a company I care to support.

I don’t know as much about Target, but we rarely shop there anyway. (Really, we just don’t have that much to buy.)

Our new national hobby of shopping for the cheapest everything is leading us down a bad path, I suspect. :/


Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer June 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I prefer Target and it is closest to my house. But if I have to buy a lot of little non-food items, I head to Wal-Mart because of price.


Kris June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Kay Lynn: I too prefer Target. I generally go to Walmart if it is convenient, or if I need to buy a certain probiotic that strangely enough is available there and practically nowhere else.


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