Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — Consumers are choosy; they don’t just shop anywhere. They carefully select stores based on where they think they’ll find the right product for the best price, and based on past shopping experiences.
Bearing that in mind, the WWD Best Stores Survey probed consumers to determine what makes one store more desirable than the other.
The accompanying chart provides insight. Based on consumer responses, stores have been assigned ratings — from one to 10 — on various criteria. For example, Penney’s rated number one in value, fit, quality and prices. It was a close second in merchandise variety, service, sales and discounts, convenient locations, returns and brand offerings.
Macy’s rated number one in merchandise variety, sales, discounts, convenient locations and brand and designer name offerings, but was a runner-up to Penney’s in ambience, quality, fit and value.
This part of the survey includes data on how stores that were not among WWD’s top 10 national rankings scored on certain criteria. For example, Burdines placed seventh for variety and selection of women’s apparel, but failed to score in the top 10 nationally.
Likewise, Marshall’s did not make the winner’s circle, but placed sixth by consumers for value.
The survey also showed that consumers ranked Dayton Hudson fifth in terms of the best store for women’s apparel brands or designer clothing, but consumers do not consider DH suitable to rate in the big 10.
Among the questions posed to consumers were which stores are best for women’s apparel, for fit, for quality, for overall selection and variety. They were also asked about ambience, service, prices, sales, hours and exchange policies.
The survey’s data supplies strong evidence of continued cross-shopping for women’s apparel, a trend that’s been going on ever since off-pricers spread all over the country and accelerated in the Nineties. The same consumers shopping Saks and Neiman’s are shopping Loehmann’s and Marshall’s. For example, when consumers were asked what stores offer the most value, typically Penney’s and Macy’s were named first, but many of same shoppers, from a variety of age and income brackets, indicated that Target, Mervyn’s, Wal-Mart and Marshall’s were priority shopping destinations.
Less than one percentage point separated Macy’s from Penney’s as the top store for overall selection or variety in women’s clothing. The scale was tipped by the votes from upper-income consumers.
When it came to selecting the best store for women’s apparel in terms of prices, many consumers chose Penney’s. However, discounters and other mass merchants took five of the top seven rankings in this category, including Target, Wal-Mart, Mervyn’s, Marshall’s and Kmart.