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I visited a Big Lots store and saw why why the chain is struggling as customers flock to other discount stores


Big Lots exterior

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

  • Big Lots sales in the most recent quarter were down nearly 10% over the year before.
  • I visited a Rochester, New York location to see why.
  • I found a confusing, disorganized store with no clear brand to draw in customers. 
I visited a Big Lots store in Rochester, New York to see why the chain is suffering with sales down 10% year over year, even as consumers are eager for deals and low prices.Big Lots exterior

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The chain sells many different things, and the corporate website describes it as ” amazing values that other stores just can’t match” on “everyday consumables and housewares to toys and seasonal goods.”Big Lots exterior

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The location I visited had a few carts available, though I didn’t see anyone actually using them.Big Lots carts

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When I stepped inside, I didn’t have any more clarity about what kind of store this was.Big Lots display

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There was a tailgating display near the entrance with some folding chairs and blankets.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The setup of the store was confusing and didn’t seem to follow any real reasoning.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Messily arranged boxes of clothes lined shelves behind the tailgate setup.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

That same aisle also had some exercise equipment, which was on sale.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

There was half an aisle entirely dedicated to Baby Yoda merchandise, with blankets, stuffed toys, pillows, and other items.Big Lots baby yoda

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Big Lots had success selling mugs, toys, and towels from the Disney popup section, president and CEO Bruce Thorn said in a December earnings call.Big Lots

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I was surprised at how much furniture was set up and for sale inside, from beds to large sectionals to kitchen tables.Big Lots beds

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Furniture sales were down double digits in the most recent quarter because customers are delaying big purchases, Thorn said.Big Lots furniture

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The chain is lowering prices on furniture and adding more in-store discounts to move furniture, which I saw in sale signs posted throughout the store.Big Lots

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Aside from a few beds and table sets, the furniture setup felt very haphazard and unorganized.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Once I moved past the furniture, the store had more small, low-cost items for sale.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Many of the end caps advertising sales were totally emptied.Big Lots

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These displays are usually “unique, quirky, trendy and seasonal items” Big Lots says.Big Lots

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The back side of the store felt like several different chains in one.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Aisles of wall decor, faux plants, and candles reminded me of Home Goods or TJ Maxx.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

There was a surprisingly robust pet section, with toys, food, treats, and cat trees.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The food section was similar to what you might find at a dollar store.Big Lots food

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It was limited to name brands with all kinds of pantry staples and baking supplies.Big Lots food

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There was a huge selection of soda, too.Big Lots soda

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Walking through the store, it’s hard to tell what Big Lots wants to portray itself as, and why shoppers should see it as a destination over other stores.Big Lots

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Big Lots says it saw success in the fourth quarter with “Grinch branded apparel and accessory items, novelty family sleepwear, giant candy bars, ugly holiday sweaters, and leggings.”Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The store definitely reflected that confused, miscellaneous quality.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Other sections of the store were just extremely disorganized, making it difficult to tell what specific items cost or if they were on clearance.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

St. Patrick’s Day items were half stocked and sitting on a cart in the middle of the store.Big Lots St. Patrick

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The clothing section was extremely full, to the point where it was almost impossible to look through and take items off the rack.Big Lots

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Toys are a big sector for Big Lots, and it was easy to see why.Big Lots toys

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The toy section was the easiest to navigate and find prices marked on items.Big Lots Baby Yoda

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There was also a section of $5 and under stocking stuffers near the register that I was tempted to buy from.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Big Lots kind of reminded me of Five Below in its mix of interesting novelties and moderate disorganization.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

However, at Five Below it’s easy to justify an inexpensive purchase. Big Lots has many more items priced at $10, $25, and higher.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

After visiting, I understand better why Big Lots isn’t benefiting from more consumers looking for deals.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The chain has a huge range of items at comparatively low prices, but it’s not clear why people should shop there over other stores.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

It doesn’t have an established brand as a destination for cheap home goods, toys, or anything in particular.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

It’s a store for everything, but a destination for nothing.Big Lots

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

It’s definitely entertaining to walk around and kill some time, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for anything I needed to shop for.Big Lots kitchen

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

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