The Good Guys were the pick of the electrical retailer crop – not surprising, considering they took out the inaugural People’s Choice Award for Best Retailer last year. A great all-rounder, they rated highest for range of products, after-sales service, store environment and price, and came in a close second on staff helpfulness. Customers praised the store for product variety and staff knowledge, but a few had reservations about their discounting policies. “Ticket prices tend to be inflated to accommodate their pay-less-for-cash terms,” cautioned one responder. Another wrote: “Ticket prices are too high so you are expected to haggle”.
Bing Lee, Retravision and JB Hi Fi also rated well in this sector, edging out the competition on price and service. But Harvey Norman, last year’s second place winner for the People’s Choice Award, put in a lacklustre performance, rating above average on product range but not so well on price and after-sales service. A few respondents mentioned the retailer’s campaign to apply GST to online shopping orders. “I’m probably not going back after Gerry Harvey’s outburst about online shopping!” said one shopper. “Their sale prices are easily beaten by Australian GST-paying online stores!” said another.
The department stores Myer, Big W, Target and Kmart, didn’t rate so well in this sector. Availability of staff was a problem. “In Myer, finding anyone to help is a miracle and finding someone who CAN help is even rarer!”
Clothes shoes and accessories
There was room for improvement for stores selling clothes, shoes and accessories. Highest placed store David Jones only rated 49% as a very good or excellent place to shop overall. DJs didn’t rate well on price (neither did Myer), but rated well on range, after-sales service and store environment.
Although many were prepared to shop at the higher end department stores, there were plenty who sought better value: the second, third and fourth places in this sector went to Millers, Lowes and Rivers – all known for their sale campaigns. The surprise sleeper hit was Millers, topping the price and staff helpfulness categories.
30% of survey respondents said they’d bought clothes, shoes and accessories online. Perhaps influenced by eBay’s cheeky “browse it at Westfield, buy it brand new on eBay” campaign, some shoppers mentioned finding the perfect item in store, then finding the perfect price online.
Toiletries and cosmetics
The top place-getters in this sector were a mixed bag – David Jones scored highest on product range and store environment but fared badly on price, while runner-up Chemist Warehouse was unbeaten on value but had a store environment one reviewer described as “help yourself or go without”. But 46% still shop at independent chemists. Many said that they preferred the individualised service and expert advice of their local retailer.
Online shopping in this category was popular, 24% used websites such as StrawberryNET, perhaps to capitalise on savings enhanced by the skyrocketing Aussie dollar, with a few complaining that these savings were not passed on by bricks and mortar retailers. “Products that I would otherwise have to purchase through DJs, Myer or a beauty salon are at least half price on StrawberryNET and are delivered free of charge, usually within a few days of ordering,” raved one survey participant.
The home entertainment sector - which included books, DVDs, CDs, and computer/electronic games - is a competitive one. Last year’s People’s CHOICE Award winner The Good Guys went head to head with last year’s finalist, discounting giant JB HiFi. JB captured 61% of the business from our survey respondents while The Good Guys managed to attract only 8%, however these products are not a core part of the Good Guys' range. But despite the difference, The Good Guys still managed to edge out JB as a better overall place to shop for home entertainment, rating higher on staff helpfulness, after-sales service, store environment and price. But it is interesting to note that while only 7% of JB customers had cause to complain, our survey respondents had more problems with The Good Guys – 12% had issues with the retailer.
As with the electrical sector, respondents tended to prefer shopping at specialist stores for home entertainment. David Jones, Big W, Myer and Kmart were rated lowest in this category by CHOICE members, with customers lamenting product range, availability of stock and staff knowledge. “When you request an item at Big W, you’re always told they can’t get it. And you have to queue for long periods of time, just to ask simple questions of their staff.”
Home and garden
The home and garden sector is dominated by Bunnings. 88% of our survey respondents had shopped at the warehouse giant in the previous six months – the highest percentage of any store in any sector. The huge range of products kept customers coming back, with 85% saying they would probably or definitely recommend Bunnings to a friend or family member.
But while this store was hugely popular, coming second in the Home and Garden category only to local nurseries and managing to take out our People’s CHOICE Retailer of the Year Award for 2011, several survey respondents expressed reservations about Bunnings' expansion plans. “I would prefer to shop elsewhere but Bunnings seems to have put the other hardware stores in the area out of business so I don't have a lot of choice,” said one unhappy customer. Another explained: “It's the only store in town so I feel a bit trapped. It sells items at very cheap prices which may seem good at first. However I seriously question their service. I still shop there with very little trust.”
The local nursery was the preferred place to shop, providing good service and a positive store environment. But the little guys didn’t rate well on price and were only average on product range, and several respondents mentioned that they are worried about their long-term viability. Big W, KMart and Woolworths did not rate well overall, and ironically True Value Hardware rated lowest on price.
Sport and leisure
When it comes to buying the right joggers or footy boots, it seems that shoppers are prepared to pay a premium for good service, with Athlete’s Foot coming out on top of the competition despite their pricing leaving a lot to be desired. “The prices are often high but the service and range are worth the extra cost. I regard Athlete’s Foot as an exemplary retailer!” summed up one shopper. Several respondents were particularly impressed with the store’s returns policy. “Wrong sized shoes bought in Brisbane were cheerfully replaced in a regional NSW store, no receipt required.” Another added: “The prices are not discounted, but I feel confident shopping there. They don't rush you and there is no problem with returning shoes if you’re not happy. Staff give you all the attention and time you need.”
The 43% who had shopped at Rebel rated it above average in the sector, however it did lag a fair distance behind Athlete’s Foot. Bottom of the scale were Kmart, Target and Myer, which were judged by many as lacking in product range and staff helpfulness.
Toys and games
It seems that CHOICE shoppers appreciate unique toys and games with an educational twist – The Australian Geographic Shop came in as an overwhelming favourite overall in this category. With a whopping 74% of customers describing AGS staff helpfulness as very good or excellent, and their product range rating on par with that of giant Toys R Us, it’s not surprising that this store performed well. “I love the amazing range of toys they have especially for inquisitive children of all ages, and I love that all of the toys and games encourage exploration and curiosity!” said one survey participant.
But if this sector is anything to judge by, you don’t always get what you pay for when you’re dishing out the big bucks. David Jones and Myer rated equal last on price, and rated below average on stock availability. Furthermore, 11% of survey respondents had cause to complain about an issue at Myer. Last-placed The Reject Shop was rated highest on price by survey respondents, but the shopping experience did not rate well. Customers tended to shop at the cheapie for stocking fillers or party bag stuffing, but had low expectations for product quality.
Baby and toddler
For a sector that caters to children and their parents, these stores surprisingly underperformed when it came to creating a child-friendly environment. Pumpkin Patch rated top place for babies and toddlers, but only 54% of respondents described the stores as child-friendly. Other retailers in this sector performed far worse, with only 16% to 26% of respondents rating their child friendliness as very good or excellent. “The stores are hard to negotiate with a stroller or pram, which is annoying - if I see a lot of people in there I just don't bother going in!” said one Best & Less shopper.
Mass retailer Woolworths was described by one shopper as “a sterile experience. You're left to your own devices, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.”