Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — The polling is over, and the winner once again is J.C. Penney.
It’s America’s favorite place to shop for women’s apparel, according to a national consumer study commissioned by WWD.
Macy’s again came in second.
The NPD Group, an independent research firm in Port Washington, N.Y., asked 808 women from 10 metropolitan areas and different income brackets to name their favorite store. WWD sponsored a similar study in 1994.
The results are filled with surprises. For one, despite all the other data which points to people shopping less frequently in malls and exhibiting little store loyalty, department stores came out strong again in this year’s survey. They represented six of the top 10 places to shop, just as they did in the earlier study. However, there were new names among the top 10: Hecht’s ranked seventh, Lord & Taylor placed ninth and Target was 10th. In addition, some rankings shifted.
Dropped from the top 10 national rankings were Kmart, Burdines and Dayton Hudson.
Penney’s ranking at the top of the heap is also surprising considering the up-and-down year it’s had. Sales slowed in the first half, but are picking up in the second half. Apparently, Penney’s customers don’t give up easily.
A closer look at consumer store preferences on a regional basis turns up some different results from a national sampling. For example, Nordstrom is ranked number one in the West, while Hecht’s is rated first in the Washington, D.C., region.
On a metro-area basis, Dillard’s tops the charts in Phoenix and Dallas, Macy’s rates first in New York and San Francisco, Burdine’s is tops in Miami, Rich’s wins Atlanta, Hecht’s is numero uno in Washington, D.C., and Nordstrom is the leader in L.A.
Interestingly, in just two years, opinions have changed. The 1996 rankings are different from those in 1994, and that’s because women’s apparel retailing is fiercely competitive. For example, in Miami, Penney’s moved into second place while Macy’s, Mervyn’s and Lord & Taylor are new entries among the top five choices. Likewise, in the Washington, D.C., area, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor are new names among the top five. Similarly, in Chicago, Kohl’s and Nordstrom grabbed top five slots.
In the New York area, while Macy’s holds a tight grip on first place, Saks Fifth Avenue, Kmart and Stern’s moved into the top 10 category. They weren’t there in 1994.
The sample for this study was pulled from NPD’s Home Testing Institute panel of 300,000 U.S. households. The respondents were females aged 18 to 69 from households earning $25,000 or more. They live in the country’s 10 official statistical metropolitan areas (SMAs): New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Dallas and Phoenix. The 10 SMAs account for 23 percent of all retail apparel and accessories sales.
About 30 percent of respondents were upper-income households, those earning over $100,000 with dual incomes or those earning $70,000 on single incomes. Sixty-one percent of those interviewed had incomes over $50,000.
Among upper-income consumers, the rankings were somewhat different. On a national basis, Nordstrom tied with Macy’s for the top spot, while Penney’s ranked second. Dillard’s captured third place, and Lord & Taylor was fourth. Dayton Hudson and Talbots were tied for fifth place among respondents with incomes over $70,000.
A 10-minute interview was conducted in September. Participants were asked to name their favorite store and explain why. New to this year’s survey were questions identifying factors important in selecting stores and store ranking in terms of specific attributes. When asked what makes a store their favorite place to shop, an overwhelming 83 percent of the respondents said it’s the variety and selection of merchandise.
Price was cited by 34 percent of the respondents as the primary reason to shop a store, while brands/quality was cited by about 28 percent.
Sales and discounts were less important, with about 17 percent of the respondents putting these elements first. Service was noted by about 13 percent as the basis for choosing where to shop.

Across the country, consumers cited dozens of stores as their favorite. But here are the top 10:
1. J.C. Penney
2. Macy’s
3. Mervyn’s
4. Nordstrom
5. Dillard’s
6. Wal-Mart
7. Hecht’s
8. Sears
9. Lord & Taylor
10. Target

By region, here’s how the chains stacked up:

New York Los Angeles
1. Macy’s 1. Nordstrom
2. Kmart 2. Mervyn’s
3. Lord & Taylor* 3. May Company
4. Saks Fifth Avenue* 4. Macy’s
5. Stern’s* 5. J.C. Penney
6. Lerner Stores*

Chicago Washington, D.C.
1. J.C. Penney 1. Hecht’s
2. Marshall Field 2. J.C. Penney
3. Kohl’s 3. Lord & Taylor
4. Nordstrom* 4. Macy’s*
5. Lord & Taylor* 5. Nordstrom*
6. Sears*
7. Talbots*

Dallas Atlanta
1. Dillard’s 1. Rich’s
2. J.C. Penney 2. Macy’s
3. Foley’s 3. Upton’s
4. Mervyn’s* 4. J.C. Penney*
5. Wal-Mart* 5. Wal-Mart*
6. Target*

Miami Minneapolis
1. Burdines 1. J.C. Penney
2. J.C. Penney 2. Dayton Hudson
3. Macy’s* 3. Kohl’s
4. Mervyn’s* 4. Sears*
5. Lord & Taylor* 5. Kmart*
6. Target*

San Francisco Phoenix
1. Macy’s 1. Dillard’s
2. Nordstrom 2. J.C. Penney
3. Mervyn’s 3. Mervyn’s
4. J.C. Penney 4. Wal-Mart
5. Robinsons-May

* Indicates a tie.

The study provides additional evidence that U.S. retailing, although a mature business, is still undergoing dynamic changes. The fight among retailers for the loyalty and credit card of the consumer is far from over. Among other key findings:
Penney’s has successfully transformed itself in the consumer’s mind to a first-rate department store for women’s apparel.
In the competition with Macy’s, Penney’s demographics were solid, equaling or outscoring Macy’s in all but one age and income group — 18-to-29- year-olds, and the upper-income segment. Penney’s strength was in working women and traditional families. A larger percentage of empty nesters and single women favored Macy’s.
Cross-shopping continues to be significant in apparel retailing, with Wal-Mart, Mervyn’s and Kohl among the top 10 favorite stores.
Strong assortments, particularly a variety of styles and colors, is the number one reason why most consumers choose a store. No other factor — price, sales, convenience, or ambience — comes close.