8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target

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I grew up shopping at the first-ever Target store, and I have written about the eight things I always buy at the discount-store chain. But, even for dedicated Target shoppers like me, it’s not a one-stop shop.

There are certain things I don’t buy at Target, and that is not meant as a knock on the chain. It’s just that no one store can specialize in everything.

Target is a top-notch destination for certain purchases: I’ll probably never buy my daughter’s school supplies or our family’s Easter candy elsewhere. And yet, the following things are on my “not at Target” list.

1. Books that aren’t best-sellers

Woman reading a book
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I have praised Target’s well-curated book selection in other articles. The store is loaded up with best-sellers.

However, if you want a less-popular book — something from earlier in an author’s career, or a specific non-fiction volume, you’re likely out of luck. When you need Carl Sandburg’s collected poems, or a teach-yourself-Japanese book, head to your local indie bookstore or local library.

2. Handbags that last

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I can never resist perusing the purse selection at Target — and, yes, sometimes I buy. But I know what I’m getting into.

A Target purse might last me a year or, if I switch it out for winter, a few summers. Eventually, though, it’ll reveal itself as the inexpensive, spur-of-the-moment purchase it was by fraying. Or the zipper or strap will break.

That’s OK. Just don’t expect to buy your reliable, permanent purse here.

3. Athletic shoes

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I’m no marathoner, but casual neighborhood walks have saved my sanity during the coronavirus pandemic.

The one variety of footwear I’ll never buy a Target? Athletic shoes. If they’re not comfortable and secure on my foot (wide toebox, please), I won’t want to wear them, and then I’ll wimp out on my oh-so-necessary walks.

In this area, spending a bit more can pay off — ideally, at a specialty store where clerks are trained to fit your feet.

4. Spring clothes for kids

Children running in a park
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Target, like me, was born in Minnesota. But based on its spring children’s clothing racks — full of thin, sleeveless dresses and other light outfits — you’d think the buyers don’t realize temperatures ever drop below 85 degrees.

I can never find spring clothes there that are warm enough for the shivery springs that most of the nation lives through.

Arizonans, maybe you and the Hawaiians are happy, but for the rest of us, Target’s not the best place to outfit kids in springtime.

5. Specialty recipe needs

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Different Target stores have different grocery offerings.

I usually shop at a standard Target store, not one with an extended food department. It’s fine for canned soup, ice cream, cereal and snacks.

But when I need garam masala for my Indian butter chicken recipe, or tortillas that are a step above the mass-produced variety, I head to my local food market instead.

6. Cat food

Cat eating food
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Target has a pet-food section, and I’ve been known to load up on their cat litter, Litter Genie refills and other feline accessories.

But I don’t buy my cats’ food there. One of our furballs is on a limited-ingredient diet. Target does have some grain-free and other specialty cat foods, but it’s a small selection compared with Petco and other pet stores.

7. Fragrances

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I’ve bought plenty of makeup at Target. There’s always something fun and new.

I have a weakness for fragrance, too, from perfume to bath oils to candles. But I don’t buy it here.

Target’s scents are inexpensive and fun, sure. But they are not subtle, classic or surprising. Department stores, online outlets and makeup stores such as Sephora offer a bigger and better variety.

8. On-the-cusp trends

Woman reading manga
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Target is cheerfully mainstream, and proud of it. You can get a Beatles or Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, or a Minecraft stuffed toy long after that game surged in popularity.

If you’re looking for the hippest band shirt, trendiest video-game statuette or the cool manga book that your kid is craving, don’t get your hopes up. Target is a big ship, and it takes a while for its buyers to swing it around and steer it towards the newest trends. For those things, I head to specialty stores or online outlets instead.

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