Walmart and Target: Contrasting Experiences

Walmart vs. Target
Walmart vs. Target

In the past few days, I’ve had the misfortune of visiting my local Walmart and Target stores during peak times. You know the drill…Congested aisles. Cranky shoppers. Frazzled clerks.

While neither experience was particularly enjoyable (for me, shopping rarely is), what struck me was the contrasting treatment I received by each of these competing discount stores.

One made me feel like a valued customer; the other, a nuisance.

First up: Walmart

I should probably disclose that I’ve never been a fan of Sam Walton’s house of bargains. Saving a few pennies on laundry detergent has never been enough of an incentive to convince me to frequent the world’s largest retailer.

I do, however, endure Walmart madness every couple of months to pick up a prescription refill (for my cat, no less). And I’m rarely disappointed by the chaos I encounter when I walk through those sliding glass doors.

Despite limiting my exposure to the small – seemingly simple – pharmacy department, a less organized scenario would be difficult to find. I don’t understand how a retailer praised for its efficiency could be so inefficient in dealing with customers.

On this occasion, I encountered two long lines of customers awaiting service. I had no choice but to choose a line and patiently wait my turn.

Just as I was on the verge of forking over $8 for 60 tablets, an older lady stepped in front of me to inform the cashier she couldn’t find a product in the store. Instead of directing the woman to another associate – or to the back of the line – the cashier left her post (and me) to tend to the woman’s “urgent” need.

A few minutes later, the cashier returned – not to help me, but to ask the other cashier how to look something up on her handheld device. Cashier #2 began helping cashier #1, while the rest of us saps waited in earnest for them to figure it all out.

After they finally cracked the code, cashier #1 made herself available to help me. She didn’t apologize for my wait. Didn't express embarrassment over the comedy of errors. Didn't even make eye contact.

Just another day at the office, I guess.

Next up: Target

A couple of days later, I chose to visit Target to pick up some groceries.

Located less than a mile from Walmart, my shopping experience at Target is almost always more positive.

As luck would have it, however, I finished my shopping about the same time that several others converged on the same few open checkout lanes.

Trying to determine which lane would be quickest, I mistakenly stepped behind two women arguing with the cashier over the discount percentage of the dozens of items they had placed on the conveyor.

The cashier was doing her best to maintain her composure while these ladies instructed her to remove all items that weren’t 75 percent off.

As my blood pressure continued its rapid ascent, another cashier stepped up and invited me to enter one of the two checkout lanes just opening. She apologized for my wait, looked me in the eye and quickly checked me out. Exiting the store, I passed the two women, still haggling over their items.

I felt especially grateful to be on my way before my two pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream had a chance to become dangerously soft.

Above all, I felt like a valued customer.  I realize that Target is far from perfect, and I’ve certainly encountered cranky, inefficient cashiers there.

Unlike Walmart, however, they seem to be the exception.