Each week we look at retailers competing in the same sector. This week we’re bargain hunting in Matalan and TK Maxx
Each week we are looking at two shops competing in the same sector and reviewing what they are offering customers: from how helpful the staff are, to the best bargains currently on offer.
Our review will be based on a visit to stores on the same high street, or online, so it will be just a snapshot of how the retailer is performing.
In order to get a better idea of which retailers are delivering and which are falling short, we would like you to tell us about your experiences of the same shops.
Some weeks, both stores we visit may do a good job, other weeks there will be one that stands out as being much better or worse. Your reviews will help us discover if this is a trend.
This week we hit the high street in search of bargains, pitting Matalan against TK Maxx. Please continue to tell us which stores you would like us to go to.
Background Matalan was founded by John Hargreaves and opened its first store in Preston in 1985. Today it has more than 200 stores, with many in out of town locations.
The visit 11.30am, 1 May 2012, Marlands shopping centre, Southampton.
What it sells Discount clothing for men, women and children, and homeware.
First impressions The store is situated in a good location, dominating the shopping centre close to Southampton railway station. It has three entrances, one from the street and the other two in the shopping centre. The glass front on both floors means you can see the products on offer from the outside – there are summery tops and skirts on the ground floor, while menswear and homewares dominate the display on the first. Despite being a large, two-storey shop I couldn’t find a lift.
What were the staff like? I couldn’t see many, but those I spoke to were friendly and answered my queries.
Best bargain A flip-flop and Bermuda-style combo set for men was £10.
What does it charge? Stripy, cotton polo shirt £14; Calvin Klein boxers £11; lightweight, large suitcase £50; Wrangler denim jeans £30; 30cm frying pan £18.
Where can I pay? There were tills on both floors – two sets on the ground, one of which had three people queuing for about two minutes.
Is loyalty rewarded? According to a member of staff the reward card gives you a £5 voucher on your birthday, but you have to spend £30 to redeem it. It also offers exclusive cardholder deals.
Lasting impressions The shop was pleasant to walk around, items were neatly and logically laid out and prices clearly marked. There was plenty of good, cheap casualwear, though I didn’t find the shirts and suits inspiring. The shop had a decent homeware section with, among other things, pillows, cushions, cookware, luggage, bric-a-brac and toys.
Overall rating 7/10.
Background TK Maxx opened in 1994 and is part of TJX Companies, which also owns Homesense and Marshalls. By October 2011 it had 261 stores across the UK and Ireland. The retailer claims a typical store has 50,000 items in stock and receives about 10,000 new items a week.
The visit 12.15pm, 1 May 2012, Bar Street, Southampton.
What it sells Designer labels and brand names at reduced prices across womenswear, menswear, childrenswear and homeware.
First impressions The store is in a great location on a busy precinct, opposite the modern and popular West Quay shopping centre. Based over three floors, the front is more poster and pillar than window, with no real view of the clothes before you enter. The TK Maxx sign is largely dwarfed by the dominant colouring of HMV and Card Factory either side of it.
What were the staff like? Difficult to spot. At one stage no one was behind the tills, and then minutes later three appeared – but no customer was left waiting. The assistant I found answered my queries, pointing me in the right direction.
Best bargain Green and blue tartan Ralph Lauren shirt reduced from £110 to £39.99 (I saw a similar one for £95 in a shop in West Quay).
What does it charge? Sergio Tacchini striped polo shirt £12.99; Calvin Klein boxers £10.99; lightweight, large suitcase £69.99; French Connection jeans £24.99; 30cm frying pan £12.99.
Where can I pay? There was a large area at one end of the ground floor, and tills on other floors too. Waiting was never more than two or three minutes.
Is loyalty rewarded? No.
Lasting impressions The clothes were laid out more like a bazaar than a shop, and I found it frustrating to search for what I wanted in row after row of T-shirts, shorts and trousers ordered by size but jumbled together by brand and colour. I overheard a lady telling her partner: “It’s all over the place, you just have to look”, and that summed it up for me. There was a bit more logic in the non-clothes sections, though sometimes items looked thrown on the shelves rather than strategically placed, which made it feel cheaper. But bargains could be found: a five-piece Circulon pot/pan set at £89.99 was about £130 in other shops.
Overall rating 6/10.
Marc’s verdict Both shops had an impressive amount of stock and packed a lot into the space they had. TK Maxx definitely had the labels at discounted prices, but as a shopper who likes logic and a simple shopping experience I was put off by the chaos. Searching the heaving racks in the hope of finding the right brand, size, style and colour among masses of other items was painful, but I can appreciate that others who have an eye for a bargain and enjoy the hunt would relish the challenge. Matalan was a more pleasant experience, though less gems were on offer. It was consistent, affordable and functional – admittedly nothing wowed me, but overall it was a good store I would happily visit for basics.
For the first time ever there was an overwhelming vote for “Someone else”, with 51% of people saying they wouldn’t choose Vue or Odeon for their cinema experience.
Many backed their local independent cinema, saying they were cheaper and had a better atmosphere than the big chains.
“I voted ‘someone else’ because the typical multiplex has no distinctiveness or atmosphere. They can be great for blockbusters with a full house, but other times they’re just soulless sheds.”
And carolinemorgan added:
“Have to put in another vote for the independents. The range of films is more diverse, the prices are better and crucially, the cinemas are more comfortable and lack those irritating brats who throw popcorn/answer phone calls during the film.
“I’ve been to both Brixton and Hackney Picturehouses and would be happy to go back to them again rather than the Vue or Odeon cinemas that are closer to me.”
However, some people spoke well of the larger chains. Vue, which attracted more votes out of the two we featured with 27% was praised by HonestIago:
“Of these two, Vue: nicer staff, nicer screens and cheaper. I like the VIP seats a lot, they’re a huge improvement for a small price … The local Odeon is awful – expensive, poorly lit, dirty and a nuisance to get to by public transport.”
Let us know which of today’s stores you favour, or if you aren’t a fan of either or think another store offers better choice or prices.