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Wegmans, Trader Joe’s top supermarket ratings; Walmart at bottom

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Yonkers, N.Y. — Thousands of subscribers to the world’s largest independent product-testing organization weighed in on grocery shopping via Consumer Reports’ latest survey – and gave Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, Publix, Costco and Sprouts the highest scores overall among 55 of the nation’s major grocery stores.

Walmart landed at the bottom of the ratings, based on a survey of the 27, 208 subscribers.

The report reflects 48,076 shopping visits and reveals respondents’ satisfaction with service. While most said they were quite satisfied overall, more than half had at least one complaint about their current store. Almost a third cited two or more problems. However, no chain tried their customers’ patience more than Walmart Supercenter.

The biggest gripe overall: Not enough open checkouts (cited by 19% of shoppers), followed by congested aisles, out-of-stock advertised specials, and lack of choice.

One-third of subscribers surveyed said they had quit shopping at a nearby grocery store in the past year, mostly because of high prices, but also because of long waits, inadequate selection, or poor food quality. Fifty-eight percent of respondents gave a store the boot because of prices, compared with 43% in 2011.

Costco and Trader Joe’s, along with Publix, Sprouts and Wegmans, were said to offer better quality meat and produce and a cleaner shopping environment. All but Costco also earned the highest possible marks for service, defined as employee courtesy and checkout speed.

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Report: Banks sue security firm and Target over data breach

BY Katherine Boccaccio

New York — A pair of banks has filed suit against Target Corp. and security firm Trustwave, alleging damages suffered after the retailer’s holiday season data breach and accusing Trustwave of failing to identify security gaps.

According to a report by Reuters, which cited the American Banker, Trustmark National Bank and Green Bank N.A. are seeking damages of more than $5 million and named Trustwave Holdings and Target as defendants.

The banks allege that the vulnerabilities in the Target system were either undetected or ignored by Trustwave, which gave hackers access to millions of card accounts and personal records.

About 40 million payment card records were stolen from Target, along with 70 million other sensitive records, during the 2013 holiday shopping season.

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Francesca’s sees Q4 profit, comps slip; 85 stores on tap for 2014

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Houston — While 91 new stores boosted sales for the final fiscal quarter and year-end, Francesca’s Holdings Corp. saw net income for the 13-week period ended Feb. 1 slide to $10.6 million, from $14.9 million last year.

Same-store sales fell 6%, swinging from a 10% increase in the prior year quarter. Revenue surged to $92.1 million from $86.7 million, helped by 91 new boutique openings since the prior year quarter. Five of the 91 opened during the fourth quarter.

According to CEO Neill Davis, weather played a huge role in the disappointing fourth quarter results.

"Sales results for the fourth quarter were below our revised guidance driven by the impact of 370 full and partial daily boutique closings during January due to extreme weather conditions,” he said.

The company predicts ongoing softness in the first quarter, based on weakened traffic, but Neill said he expects an improving trend in the second half of the year.

For the full year, profit dipped to $44.8 million from $47.1 million, comps fell 2%, and sales increased 15% to $340.3 million.

Francesca’s said it plans to open approximately 60 new stores during the first quarter as compared to 56 openings during the prior year quarter. For the full year, the company will open about 85 stores, down slightly from its 91 openings in the previous year.

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