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The worst place to get advice about the best stores

Consistent with promotional strategies from previous years, Target is offering some insane prices on popular electronics items. Unfortunately, if holiday shoppers follow the advice of Consumer Reports this year they won’t be coming to Target.

The publication featured an article in its December issue with the headline, “Where to buy electronics,” and you guessed it, Target was not among the top recommended destinations. The retailer was ranked eighth among walk-in, or brick-and-mortar stores, behind top-ranked independent retailers, Costco, Apple, Staples, Hhgregg, Sam’s Club and BJ’s. Target did fare better than Walmart howeve,r which was ranked last out of 14 retailers and was also ahead of P.C. Richard & Son, Sears, RadioShack, Best Buy and Fry’s.

Consumer Reports had a backhanded comment about mass merchandisers that would give readers of the publication little reason to visit stores, noting that “although they’re more than adequate, the chains offer little that makes them worthy of first consideration. But it might be worth a stop in their electronics department if you’re already in the stores shopping for other items.”

That’s not much of an endorsement from a respected advocacy organization, albeit one that continues to subvert its reputation by masquerading readership surveys as statistically credible research. Target and other retailers who fared poorly on the ranking of best stores to buy electronics will have to hope readers are smart enough to look at the fine print. If they do, they will see that the rankings of best places to buy electronics are based on a survey of 22,942 Consumer Reports subscribers who purchased electronics during an 18-month period from January 2010 through June 11 as opposed to sample that is reflective of all U.S. consumers who purchase electronics. The publication notes that “results might not reflect the U.S. population,” but that is a weak admission of methodology shortcoming that would be easy enough to rectify if the publication elaborated on the demographics of survey respondents, which are presumably different that the population at large.

The other flaw in the rankings relates to a scoring system where even bottom ranked Walmart with its score of 80 means that respondents were very satisfied on average. And because differences of five points or less are regarded as not meaningful, most of the retailers in the ranking are indistinguishable from one another as “best places to buy,” because there scores are so tightly grouped.