As a general rule, I take surveys, especially consumer surveys, with a grain of salt for this simple reason: there is always a difference between what someone says and what they actually do.

Take the University of Michigan consumer confidence index, which has proven to be a poor indicator of future economic activity. Consumers might feel lousy about the economy but that won't stop us from buying stuff we don't need.

Which brings us to an odd survey recently conducted by Market Force Intelligence, a "leading global customer intelligence solutions company for multi-location businesses." (Don't worry. I don't know what that means either.)

Market Force surveyed 7,000 customers in North America to ascertain "America's Favorite Fashion Retailer." Here are the results:

1. Kohl's
2. Nordstrom
3. Macy's
4. Dillard's
5. JCPenney
6. Coldwater Creek
7. Ann Taylor LOFT
8. T.J. Maxx
9. Old Navy
10. Marshalls
What's noticeable about this list is who's not on it, namely Target Corp, which finished 15th, one spot ahead of Wal-Mart.

That's right folks, the retailer that sold out its exclusive Missoni collection in less than 24 hours somehow ranks below those fashion powers known as Old Navy, JCPenney, and Marshalls.

Reasonable people can disagree about Target's fashion sensibilities. But Old Navy? Really?

Market Force says the 7,000 survey respondants ranged in age from 18 to more than 65 and reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with three-quarters reporting incomes of more than $50,000 a year; 81 percent are women and half said they have children at home.

What does the survey doesn't tell us is the exact age break down and the geographic distribution of the respondents, ie. cities, suburbs, rural areas. We also really don't know what factors consumers weighed when deciding on their "favorite" fashion retailer, though the press release vaguely mentions price and type of merchandise.

One thing is for certain: consumer sentiment doesn't necessary translate into financial results.Kohl's and JC Penney have been struggling for most of the year. As for Old Navy, same-store sales in October dropped 9 percent, a lot worse than the 4.3 percent decline Wall Street was expecting.

If Target took the survey at face value (which I doubt), then the retailer should be fairly discouraged. You would too if you devoted considerable resources to fashion only to be bested by stores better known for clearance sales than fashion sense.

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