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Basket Cases: Kmart takes top spot for low-price textiles

New York — Few would argue that Wal-Mart does the best job of projecting a determinedly low-price image, but the true low-price leader for a market basket filled with commonly purchased bedding and bath products is Kmart, according to HTT's Spring Market Basket Survey.

The tab for Kmart's market basket containing seven opening price point home textiles items to outfit a typical bedroom and eight basic products for a bathroom rang up at $155.13, undercutting by 8 percent Wal-Mart's tab of $167.07 for similar product. And while the Kmart store visited by HTT did not stock one of the items on the Market Basket master shopping list — a bath sheet — neither did the Wal-Mart in this survey. Wal-Mart, in fact, also was missing a second item on the list, a tissue box. (For the complete store-by-store list of price points, brands and product details, see pages 10, 11 and 12.)

In an environment that has put all retailers under pressure to present value-oriented opening price merchandise, HTT surveyed assortments at nine of the country's top home textiles retailers: Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Kmart, Target, Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'N Things, TJX's Marshall's and Kohl's.

Editors set out with a prototypical shopping list for the bedroom and bathroom, and scouted for both the lowest and highest price point offerings in each store for each item.

Bedding products on the list included a queen-sized sheet set, comforter, dust ruffle, quilt, blanket as well as a pair of standard shams and a throw. Bath products included a bath sheet, bath towel, hand towel, washcloth, shower curtain, bath rug, soap dish, liquid dispenser and tissue box.

While not every store visited by HTT offered every product on the list, none of missing items caused a significant variation in the price of the market baskets. In fact, the mean variation between opening price point market baskets was 13.0 percent.

The closest ties in opening price point market basket totals were logged by Target (2 percent higher than Marshall's), Sears (6 percent above Linens 'N Things), and Wal-Mart (8 percent above Kmart).

The largest gaps between opening-price-point market baskets were found at Marshall's (23 percent higher than Wal-Mart), Bed Bath & Beyond (20 percent above Sears), Kohl's (17 percent above Bed Bath & Beyond), Linens 'N Things (13 percent above Target) and JCPenney (11 percent above Kohl's).

The distance between market basket prices was much greater in the upper-price-point area, where three retailers — Bed Bath & Beyond, JCPenney and Linens 'N Things — breached the $1,000 transaction mark. Bed Bath & Beyond's $1,633.83 ticket made it the white glove leader — not a great surprise considering that HTT surveyed the store that serves the New York City market.

JCPenney's top price point market basket came in at a healthy $1,101.94 but still managed to undercut Bed Bath by 33 percent. LNT swept in close behind, lagging Penney's top price point melange by just 7 percent.

Across the survey, the closest correlations between baskets appeared at Kmart (just 7 percent less expensive than Marshall's) and at Sears (9 percent lower than Linens 'N Things).

The greatest differences in top-tier market basket pricing, in addition to the JCPenney/Bed Bath gap, were found at Target (33 percent lower than Sears), Marshall's (25 percent lower than Target), Kohl's (18 percent lower than Linens 'N Things), Wal-Mart (17 percent lower than Kmart) and Kohl's (14 percent lower than Linens 'N Things).

The extent to which high/low retailing is practiced by the leading home textiles retailers also varied widely in the survey, with the country's two leading discounters maintaining the tightest ratios between opening price point and top price point market basket merchandise. Not surprisingly, Wal-Mart established the narrowest pricing range — roughly $55 between its lowest-priced washcloth and its highest-priced queen quilt. Kmart's span came in a little more than $13 broader, with roughly $68 separating its market basket low from its high.

The three greatest price point swings were recorded by Bed Bath & Beyond ($269), JCPenney (roughly $238) and Sears ($228).

While private label products featured heavily in the survey, supplier-branded products remain a robust part of the mix, especially at Marshall's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'N Things and Kohl's. Each of their market baskets carried an assortment that was more than 50 percent supplier-branded. Supplier brand presence was particularly strong in the top price point baskets, where 67 percent of the market baskets in the survey were filled with roughly 50 percent supplier brands or more.

And despite the rapidly growing incursion of import product on retail shelves, US-made product constituted the majority of the market basket spread for all but two retailers: Bed Bath & Beyond and Marshall's. Further, US-made product turned in strong showings in both opening price point baskets (with 78 percent of them carrying at least 50 percent US product) and top price point baskets (67 percent).

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