America's top stores

FRESNO, Calif.

Consumer Reports National Research Center asked readers to rate their experiences at major chains, both in-store and online. They were asked about quality, selection, value, customer service, and how easy it was to check out.

Consumer Reports rated all kinds of stores, including big-box giants, Walmart, Target, and Kmart, and department stores--Macy's, JCPenney, Sears, and Kohl's. Also two super-sized warehouse clubs--Costco and Sam's Club.

The biggest complaints about walk-in stores were long lines, lack of sales help, and out-of-stock items. Walmart got the lowest rating for customer service. And when it comes to finding a bargain, Kmart--a store known for its low prices--came up short. Shoppers said they got better value at Costco and Kohl's.

Overall, Costco turned out to be the real standout. It was the only chain to receive an outstanding grade for the overall quality of its merchandise both in stores and online.

Consumer Reports says that shoppers particularly praised the quality of Costco's merchandise--everything from personal care items like cosmetics, toothpaste, and shampoo to kitchenware, electronics, and even watches and jewelry.

And Costco's website also got kudos for value and how easy it is to navigate. Another plus: The Costco website isn't just for members. Nonmembers can shop there by paying an extra 5 percent of the purchase price. And checkout is a "virtual breeze" online, unlike the lines people complained about in Costco stores.

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