Last Updated Oct 1, 2010 4:35 PM EDT
In the battle for public opinion, Target has shellacked its larger competitor, Walmart. Whether it's environmentalists attacking the concept of big-box retail or workers' rights advocates lambasting the chain's treatment of employees, Walmart has become a poster company for the excesses of capitalism. Target, meanwhile, has built a reputation for cheap chic, pairing with Liberty of London and Michael Graves to churn out high-design at low prices. Walmart gets the blame for putting mom and pop stores out of business, while Target recently opened its first store in Manhattan, a market Walmart has yet to crack.
Recently, however, Target has looked vulnerable, suffering more in the economic downturn than Walmart did, and committing a rare public relations gaffe by making a political.
So what about the merchandise? On its carefully edited shelves, Target offers many good products at competitive prices, but it also sells products you should avoid, either because you'll get a better selection or price at another store, or because there are more environmentally sound options. Here are four items not to buy at Target.
Target's design edge in categories like clothing and housewares, where Target has exclusive deals with fashion stars such as Zac Posen, clearly doesn't extend to home furniture. "You can get comparable quality and cheaper stuff from Ikea, and Ikea's merchandise is a bit more stylish," says Kathryn Finney of The Budget Fashionista site. Finney says that, in particular, Ikea's bookshelves, chairs, and kitchen tables tend to offer better value than those at Target.
Movies and Music
"They can't really beat Amazon or Walmart" when it comes to prices on movies, music, and books, says James McQuivey, a media technology analyst at Forrester Research. Katy Perry's Teenage Dream CD, for example, sells for $13.99 at Target, vs. $9.99 at Amazon and $9.00 at Walmart, while the Blu-ray version of Date Night costs $29.99 at Target, vs. $24.96 at Walmart and $28.99 at Amazon.com.
Target's clothes may be fashionable, but if you want to look great in them, buy your exercise equipment somewhere else. Target's offerings in this category tend toward the $199 "As Seen on TV" Ab Circle Pro and the $100 Tony Little "Gazelle Edge" fitness system. You're generally better off going to a place like The Sports Authority for higher-end exercise equipment. Or join a gym and hire a pro.
Shower Curtains, Some Toys, and Other Products with PVC
Following a national campaign by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) and other environmental groups, Target agreed in 2007 to reduce the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic in its products and packaging. PVC often contains lead and pthalates, which have been linked to reproductive problems in humans and release carcinogens when incinerated. At the time, Target lagged behind Walmart and Sears in removing products containing PVC, says Mike Schade, CHEJ's PVC campaign coordinator. Although Target is now doing just as well as these rivals in removing PVC -containing products, it hasn't gotten rid of all of them, according to Schade.
Of particular concern are toys not sold under Target's private-label brand; Schade says it can be a challenge for retailers to control the materials that its suppliers use. (Toys sold under Target's brand should generally be PVC-free, according to Schade.) And read the labels on plastic shower curtains: Target has removed most, but not all, that contain PVC from its shelves. (Products that contain the recycling symbol with the number '3' in the middle mean they contain PVC.)
For its part, Target says it has eliminated or switched to safer forms of PVC in product categories covered by child safety legislation.
This article is part of a package of stories about consumers and Target. Read our other article on what to buy at Target.
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