Top shopping

We went, we bought, we rated. Chatelaine’s undercover shopping team scoured the aisles of some of Canada’s biggest retail chains to see which ones treat customers best. Here’s our third annual straight-from-the-cart report.

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More than 20 mystery shoppers from Vancouver to Halifax visited 645 stores representing 81 different chains coast-to-coast. They browsed, peppered staff with questions, tried on clothes, made purchases and returned items.

How we scored
The shoppers gave us an overall impression; their scores were tallied and their comments recorded. Points were assigned based on the following: promptness of greetings; overall friendliness; conditions in the store; staff knowledge; staff skill with cash register and staff response to returns. On the following pages, you’ll find which stores make shopping pleasurable and easy.

In addition to the top 10 retail chains, this year, we scored five specialty categories: department stores, hardware, specialty shops, health food and drug stores and womenswear. Happy shopping!

Top 10 retail chains
  Stores Scores* Why we liked them Nobody’s perfect, so, if only…
1 Smart Set
Seen in malls coast-to-coast; specializes in youthful, stylish, women’s work, rest and play wear
85.83% “The clerk was so good…she knew all of the clothes in the store and exactly where to find them. She actually served two of us at the same time.” “the change areas had elbow room.”
2 Naturalizer
The last word in comfy footwear
83.67% “The sales rep brought me every single shoe she had in a size 10.” “the chairs were as comfortable as the shoes.”
3

Athletes World
Teen spirit galore featuring trendy athletic footwear and sports fashions

82.40% “The clerk told me the original price and the sale price of the same shoe. Then when I bought them, he tied up the laces for me.” “it didn’t have walls of TVs playing along with the radio.”
4

Northern Traditions
Dressy sportswear for the conservative woman

81.50% “All of the store’s space was utilized very well and there was even enough room to get a stroller through the aisles.” “the selection could be better. I wish it had skirts of different lengths.”
5 GNC
A new arrival to these charts–purveyor of vitamins, minerals and supplements
80.83% “My clerk made me feel that anything I asked her about, she would give me the right answer.” “it found some way of clearly explaining why one type of vitamin B12 is better than the 10 other types of B12.”
6 Foot Locker
Sports shoes, sports shoes and more sports shoes; socks and track pants, too
78.86% “The best part was the store’s distinct women’s and men’s sides. TVs were playing men’s and women’s sports on the appropriate sides.” “there were more employees working at peak times.”
7 Claire’s
Fashion accessories suitable for special occasions and everyday wear
77.71% “The clerk stayed within my price range. I bought the thing I was secretly shopping for and a pair of earrings for myself.” “all of the non-hygienic and sale items weren’t non-refundable…what if something breaks?”
8 Glidden Paints
Litres and metres of home wallcoverings
76.20% “The clerk explained step-by-step how my product worked. I walked out with a smile on my face because I’d received such valuable information.” “it wasn’t set up for commercial and industrial clients rather than for someone who wants to paint the back porch.”
9 Roots
Classy clothes for the whole family; some locations also sell leather goods and home accessories
76.17% “You walk in, someone says hi and makes you feel very comfortable. Plus with all the Canadian stuff, there’s a good feeling about the place.” “cotton sweatshirts didn’t cost the same amount as wool sweaters.”
10 a) The Body Shop
More than 600 bath, body, makeup, hair and skin-care products; none tested on animals
76.00% “I told the clerk that I wanted a gift basket and she took me to that section. Then she gathered up all of the demos shown in the basket for me to smell.” “the store wasn’t so cluttered. There are too many things to look at.”
b) Nutrition House
Vitamin, bodybuilding and protein supplements
76.00% “The sales clerk pointed out something I wasn’t aware of. I didn’t know I was already getting vitamin B in my multivitamins.” “the store had better descriptions of the products to make it easier to help yourself.”
c) Transit
Value-priced shoes, boots and handbags
76.00% “The clerk was alone in the store, running between two of us, but I still got excellent service. It turned out the other customer was the clerk’s mother!” “you could fit a baby stroller or cart in the store.”