Every retailer loves a sucker customer who walks in the door convinced he will find the lowest prices in their store. In this Christmas of paucity, Americans are abandoning the mall experience for what they perceive to be the motherlode of bargains, Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, those bargains are often illusory.

As MainStreet's Jeffrey Cretan points out, the price of many low-volume items such as high-def televisions aren't any better than what can be found at the big-box stores. In fact, in Consumer Reports' rankings (subscription required) of walk-in electronics stores, Wal-Mart finished dead last, with an average score on price and worst scores on selection, quality, service, and checkout.

Other departments fare little better. Consumer Reports ranks the chain's drugstore last among mass merchants, with above average prices, and last again in small appliances, with average prices and worst quality and service.

Wal-Mart shines, no doubt, in high-volume items such as clothes, shoes, school supplies and inexpensive house furnishings. However, it needs to make money as much as any chain, so a shrewd shopper will comparison shop items of significant cost. Who knows -- you might even find that a retailer with good service can beat Wal-Mart on the price of that mega-TV for which you have been drooling.

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