Light up the month with an energy-efficient light bulb. See how your frugal month results stack up against those of our reporter.
Kmart, Target, and Walmart Grocery
Discount superstores have become one-stop shopping destinations. That is, customers can buy groceries in addition to housewares, auto and office supplies, cleaning products, jewelry, clothing, and more.
Our local Target stocks a full selection of packaged groceries, but lacks a deli and bakery. The produce section is small, although it does feature quite a few organic items. Target is remodeling more than 200 stores in 2012 to add more fresh groceries, bringing the total number of locations with an expanded food selection to more than 1,100. SuperTarget stores include deli and meat departments and a bakery.
Only about two dozen Kmart stores are Super Centers with full grocery departments. Our local Kmart stocked a very limited selection of grocery items -- mostly dry and canned goods and a smattering of dairy, all of which looked tired and not particularly appetizing -- with no fresh produce at all.
Despite one customer's assertion that "Walmart is the cheapest across the board for everything, especially groceries," the items on our list (milk, cereal, and peanut butter) were cheapest at Target: $11.52 in total, compared with $11.54 at Walmart and $14.97 at Kmart. Target scored some of its biggest gains in the Bloomberg price comparison in this category, although Walmart retained an edge in food prices overall.
Target, Kmart, and Walmart Electronics and Office.If you're looking for the cheapest place to buy electronics and office equipment, Walmart is it. An Xbox 360 with 250 GB of memory was going for $50 less than the same gaming system at Kmart or Target, and a 15.6-inch laptop was also $50 less than comparable laptops at Target and Kmart when we visited the stores.
As for the shopping experience, we found the Target electronics department to be well stocked, well organized, and teeming with eager and helpful employees. The shelves in the Walmart electronics department were crowded and the sales staff seemed busy and not as approachable. Kmart suffers in comparison. During our visit we noticed numerous empty shelves and had to hunt for items that were out of place; we even found some items haphazardly strewn about that belonged to other departments. The laptop we were interested in was in a locked case with the box turned so that only one side faced out; it happened to show the return information and not the specifications. The sales associate we approached was unable to provide assistance and we observed other customers who encountered similar frustrations.
Walmart, Kmart, and Target Clothing, Health, and Beauty Supplies.All three stores sell basic personal necessities -- clothing and health and beauty supplies. The final tally for identical health and beauty items, including deodorant, body wash, and a toothbrush, was lowest at Walmart but only pennies cheaper than Target. The bill at Kmart, by contrast, was more than $7 higher. Target bested the competition with the largest selection and the most organized display. The aisles and shelves were a little cramped and crowded at Walmart, and Kmart was a disorganized mess. For example, it took us nearly 10 minutes to find deodorant because it was located around the corner from the rest of the health and beauty inventory.
Clothing is a big draw for customers of all three stores. Kmart and Target have more aggressively wooed fashion-conscious consumers with exclusive celebrity and designer lines. Kmart features Selena Gomez and Sofia Vergara collections and Target's history of designer partnerships includes a line from Italian fashion house Missoni that attracted enough traffic to crash the retailer's website in 2011. Walmart takes a different approach. "Aside from some pockets of moderate success, their attempt at being Gen-X-cool failed and they deliberately went back to the 'all-American' styles that supported their brand early on," Courtney, the advertising executive, said.
Indeed, at Walmart we found that many clothes were less fashion-forward and some were geared toward trade workers (e.g., racks of coveralls and thermal flannel shirts). Target's clothing selection was far larger than the inventory at Walmart or Kmart and neatly and logically displayed. Kmart's clothing department, meanwhile, was a mess -- many items were unfolded and in disarray. We couldn't find price tags on men's jeans nor any sign or shelf markings with the information. No employees were present who could help.
For the items in our virtual shopping cart (a shirt, pants, and shoes for a man, woman, and child), Walmart registered the lowest prices, followed by Kmart and lastly by Target. One customer told us that Target has a better selection of clothes, but she's not willing to pay the higher prices, so she buys them at Walmart instead. Many other shoppers overlook Target's higher price point because they net better quality merchandise. "I don't care for the quality of clothing at Walmart or Kmart," said one shopper. "I just feel the clothing at Target is better made and of higher fashion." Another customer lauded Target's proprietary Mossimo clothing brand, saying she's never been disappointed. "The sizing is always right on, the price is decent, and (the clothing) goes on clearance quickly," she added. "I have yet to get rid of any Mossimo items for quality purposes. In fact, I have a Mossimo brand sweater that I purchased almost six years ago that I wear every winter. It's still in perfect condition."
Kmart, Target, and Walmart Toys.With the big holiday shopping season rapidly approaching, retailers are already fighting it out for spots in Santa's sleigh, which benefits frugal consumers. We checked prices for three toys that appear on experts' lists of hot holiday gifts: Furby, Master Moves Mickey, and LeapPad 2 Explorer. All were cheaper at Walmart, but the store's advantage on the latter two items amounted to mere cents while a Furby cost $6 less.
The Target and Walmart toy departments were clean and orderly. Again, Kmart disappointed. Some of the toys were dirty and the shelves were empty of LeapPad 2 Explorers.
Shipping fees for online orders are high but free shipping usually is offered for certain order sizes and through membership programs.
Our reporter took the frugal month challenge and saved $328 during February by forgoing haircuts and new clothes and finding free entertainment.