With more than one-third of consumers indicating that price is the most important store attribute in WWD’s first Where America Shops survey, it’s clear that Americans are still having a love affair with the bargain.

For the right price, shoppers are even prepared to overlook a host of ills, such as inferior service and poor location.

After price, consumers’ next priority was that stores feature a wide assortment of styles. Almost 30 percent said a diverse selection was the most important attribute for a store. By now it’s become a well-established fact that the same old styles simply aren’t inspiring shoppers to buy. Yet many stores carry only the usual suspects.

International retailers like H&M and Zara have long known that quickly introducing new styles to their stores several times a week gives shoppers the impetus for making more visits and buying more merchandise.

Shoppers let their displeasure be known over out-of-stock items and limited sizes, the latter considered by 14 percent to be the most important attribute. The message to retailers: Not having a full complement of sizes is like going to school without your homework. You’re just not prepared.

Besides price, selection and sizes, what else matters to shoppers? All the other categories logged just single digits. Customer service was most important to 5 percent of respondents, as was convenience. Next came cleanliness/neatness and store atmosphere, with 3 percent each. Location, friendly employees and return policy each captured 1 percent of  the vote.

Age, cultural and economic factors affected the results. The percentage of consumers who chose price as the most important store quality fluctuated when segmented by age, income and race.

As might be expected, the wealthiest shoppers surveyed, those with incomes of $100,000-plus per year, were least likely to be concerned about the cost of goods.

Hispanic shoppers (53 percent) were the most concerned about price, followed by customers with incomes of $35,000 to $49,999 (45 percent). Less worried about price were respondents aged 13 to 17 (42 percent), and 35- to 49-year-olds (37 percent).

While customers complain loudly and vehemently about customer service, only 5 percent listed it as the most important store attribute — this, at a time of heightened merger activity, which industry experts say almost never benefits consumers.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“As far as the notion of customer service, it’s not that people don’t want it or that it doesn’t make a difference, it’s that their expectations aren’t very high,” said Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL, a retail consultancy. “Shoppers said, ‘Good customer service doesn’t make you my favorite store, but bad customer service makes you my least favorite.’”

Compared with 5 percent of the general population who put customer service first, African-Americans demanded the most from stores, with 11 percent citing service as the top store quality.

Scores for store atmosphere, an area retailers have been emphasizing, hovered between 2 and 4 percent. Cleanliness and neatness concerned Hispanic and nonwhite shoppers, capturing 9 and 6 percent, respectively. Other attributes such as location and return policy barely registered among the total sample group.

What is the most important store quality?

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