How times have changed. In the midst of the recession, Time Magazine said this about Target’s inability to sustain the ground it had gained during the first nine years of the millennium:

Things are so bad, even cheap clothes are a luxury now. Why pull a new shirt off the store rack when you can snatch one out of the closet for free? Food, however, is not discretionary. Everyone has to eat, and more consumers want to dine at home to shave expenses. And there’s a certain merchandising mammoth fulfilling that crucial grocer’s role for consumers much better than Target.

That “merchandising mammoth,” of course, was Walmart. In the recession-era battle of the big box retailers, Walmart was trouncing its nearest rival.
These days, the gap has closed – both stores reported flat same store sales in 2011, although Walmart has outpaced Target when it comes to expansion, opening 458 net new stores worldwide (half of them “small format,” or neighborhood-based, stores) during it’s 2011 fiscal year, a far cry from Target’s modest expansion.
But today, which store is better? Let’s consider the facts – and your gut reactions to these questions.
Question #1: Which retailer gives you more of the “high class” feel?
This is an easy one for me – I was raised to call Target “Tar-jay.” I was raised believing Isaac Mizrahi and Diane von Furstenburg were luxury brands and style icons. To be able to get these designers at discount prices makes Target the obvious choice in my opinion. What can you get at Walmart what compares to that?
Question #2: Which store gives you better deals?
My guess would be that Walmart has better prices in a head to head price comparison of like items – but according to an August 2012 price comparison by Bloomberg, Target beats out Walmart. Although Walmart’s groceries were an average 1.35 percent cheaper than Target’s, Target won in virtually every other category. Bloomberg’s been tracking this price comparison of 150 like-items for two years; the August stats represent Target’s biggest price advantage during that time.
Question #3: Which store is geared for “people like you”?
I can’t answer this question without thinking about the infamous website People of Walmart. The truth is, every time I walk into my nearest Walmart, I see people who belong on this website. By comparison, when I visit my neighborhood Target, it’s swarming with soccer moms killing a few hours before preschool pickup. I feel more comfortable in Target, if only because my fellow shoppers reflect who I am, and maybe more importantly to Target, who I want to be.
Walmart vs Target: The Winner
For me, it’s no contest: Target is a place I want to shop, while Walmart is a place I have to shop. What about you? Which big box retailer takes first prize for your all-important money?
Libby Balke
Libby Balke