Brick-and-Mortar Stores: Real-World Bargains
Our survey identified the Apple Store as the best brick-and-mortar retailer overall; finishing closest behind it were Costco and Staples (though the latter received below-average scores in two areas).
The lowest-rated brick-and-mortar shops were discounters Target and Wal-Mart, and electronics retailer Circuit City. All three received low grades in buying advice and overall satisfaction. Readers also said that Circuit City's prices were too high, Target and Wal-Mart's product selection was poor, and Wal-Mart's store design needed help. Wal-Mart did get high marks for its low prices, however.
The Top-Scoring Stores
The Apple Store, the boutique retailer for all things Apple, now has more than 200 stores worldwide. Our survey takers gave it high marks for its buying advice, store design, product information, and selection. Readers rated the Apple Store below average on price, however, possibly because Apple products tend to cost more than their PC counterparts.
Readers gave Costco above-average grades for its prices and return policies. Its customer satisfaction scores were impressive, too. But readers were not nearly as enamored with the membership warehouse's product selection and buying advice. As for Staples, readers liked the office supplier's store design and return polices, but weren't thrilled with its prices or product selection.
Apple's Good Service
Apple Store fan Andy Odom recently switched from a Windows PC to a Mac, which he calls "more intuitive" and easier to use. Odom, a Webinar trainer in Denton, Texas, bought his MacBook laptop at an Apple Store in Dallas, using a student discount to knock $100 off the $1299 price. He was impressed with the retailer's well-trained staff: "They came across as really knowledgeable, and it seems they work a lot with people who are new converts. They're able to explain things pretty well."
One Apple Store disadvantage, however, "is the slight premium that customers pay in price," writes Apple Store customer Jason Syth in an e-mail interview. "I think that Apple's market share would grow at a much faster rate if it priced its products more competitively."