15 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. Gift cards

Gift card display at Target
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Target has a gift card selection, sure. But I find the variety they offer limited. (Maybe they don’t offer too many general merchandise store cards for fear of competition?) And if I want a slightly reduced pool of gift cards to choose from, I head to Costco, which offers that rare treat of discounted gift cards. As I noted in “8 Things I Always Buy at Costco,” I once saved $11 on a two-pack of See’s Candies gift cards there.

2. Party supplies

Girl at birthday party holding out gift bag.
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Target definitely has party supplies, from paper plates to piñatas. But I don’t stock up for my daughter’s birthday bash here.

My local costume and party supply store has a much more expansive selection of colors and themes, and if I need to stay on a tight budget, I can find everything from table settings to cheap balloons at the dollar store.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Fragrances

Woman putting on perfume
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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.

10. 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 toward the newest trends. For those things, I head to specialty stores or online outlets instead.

11. Jewelry

Earrings in a Target jewelry department
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Sure, Target has fun jewelry — casual heart-shaped necklaces, inexpensive hoop earrings, colorful bracelets. But I can’t quite figure out who their audience is.

The store doesn’t sell the crazy designs my teen daughter and her friends find at mall boutiques, and it doesn’t seem worth the store’s while to offer the pricier designs of a true jewelry store. The selection tries to be all things to all people and ends up rather blah.

12. Bras

shopping for bra
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There’s a debated statistic about just how many women wear the wrong size bra. The New York Times investigated and reported that the idea that 80% are in the wrong size is “bunk.”

Bunk or not, shopping for the right-size bra is difficult, and I much prefer to do it in the quiet of a store such as Nordstrom, where well-trained lingerie fitters are always there to privately measure and help you.

While I haven’t yet tried the numerous online-only bra sellers, such as Third Love, many of my friends swear by them. By contrast, Target’s bra section looks like a teen girl’s room after she’s hunted through her closet and tossed things everywhere.

13. Art supplies

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Target has always been my favorite spot for basic school supplies, like notebooks and No. 2 pencils. But if there’s an aspiring Picasso in your family, they’re likely to be disappointed with Target’s generic packs of gel pens, paints and the like.

For those, I head to specialty art stores or big-box craft stores. A favorite is Michael’s, which even provides scratch pads for you to try out pens and check the color and ease of ink flow.

14. Jeans

Shopping for jeans
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I’m picky about my jeans. Sure, sometimes I slop around in a comfy pair of Levi’s (which Target sells). But my favorite designer brands, like 7 For All Mankind, cost a little more and fit a little better — and I can’t get them at Target.

I save on them by hunting around at Nordstrom Rack, the off-price version of the famed department store, instead of paying full price at Nordstrom itself or at other stores selling fancy denim.

15. Specialty baking supplies

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I love to bake and make breads, candies and fancy cookies. And Target has a decent selection of starter items for such a hobby — better than my grocery store by far.

But unless I’m in a huge hurry, I’m always going to hit up a specialty cake supply store for the unusual cookie cutters, gel food colorings, specialty pans and other accessories that I may need. I’ve noticed that Target does have some of these items on their website, but they’re often not sold in stores. Plus, nothing beats that sugary smell of a true cake supply shop — pure heaven.

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