Overall Shopping Experience: I'll admit from the start that I'm a bit crowd averse. So when I pulled into The Container Store parking lot and saw how busy it was I audibly groaned. Once inside the store, however, it wasn't as crowded as I expected. The store itself was clean and well organized (as if we'd expect anything else from a store specializing in organizational products).
Customer Service: Although I visited The Container Store on a very busy Sunday afternoon, there were plenty of sales associates around to help. One of the obvious benefits of buying from The Container Store is the amount of help you can get when designing your closet. Whether you choose to use their online design tool or get assistance from one of the sales associates, it's nice to have that helping hand with your DIY project.
Brand(s) Offered: Elfa
Display Quality: The Container Store is the hands down winner when it comes to displaying their merchandise. Displays are at eye level where the customer can touch, explore and discover.
Online Purchasing: Orders can be placed online and either picked up at the store or shipped directly to your home.
Overall Shopping Experience: There's a Home Depot just a stone's throw from The Container Store in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. This isn't my usual Home Depot so I had a lot of trouble finding the closet organizing section. Once I did locate the aisle (after circling the entire store - ugh!) I found it messy and a bit crowded. It probably wouldn't have felt quite so crowded if not for the ladder blocking half the aisle.
Customer Service: While I wandered around the store in search of the closet systems, I passed a number of Home Depot associates, none of whom offered help. However, once in the closet system aisle, I encountered an associate who was assisting other customers by cutting a few of their shelves down to size. You won't encounter much design assistance at Home Depot so this is definitely more of a DIY experience.
Display Quality: You mean there is one? There was one display closet system but it was placed on an upper shelf and roped off so it was a purely hands off experience.
Online Purchasing: There are online design tools for both of the closet systems that Home Depot offers. You can purchase the items online or save the shopping list to purchase in store.
Overall Shopping Experience: Shopping at IKEA is always an adventure that requires setting aside a big chunk of time. The IKEA I visited is about an hour away from my apartment and once in the store it took some time to find the closet organizing area. Since I was there on a Sunday afternoon the store was very busy, making shopping a little more difficult.
Customer Service: While there were a number of yellow shirted IKEA associates on the sales floor, I didn't seek any out for assistance. In my experience, IKEA associates are generally very helpful when it comes to locating an item but not for design assistance.
Brand(s) Offered: IKEA's house brand is called ALGOT.
Display Quality: One of the great things about IKEA is most of their showroom floor is accessible to customers, giving you the opportunity to really explore the furniture before purchasing. That said, there wasn't much of a display for the ALGOT system - at least not where the product is stocked.
Online Purchasing: The ALGOT system cannot be purchased online nor is there a design tool associated with it.
Overall Shopping Experience: My day ended at a suburban Lowe's store because it was the most convenient location as my last stop before going home. Perhaps it was because I was in the suburbs or maybe it was due to being later in the day but the store was far less crowded and the aisles seemed cleaner and more organized. I have some familiarity with this store so I was able to easily find the closet organizing section, which I found clear and well stocked.
Customer Service: I was never approached by a sales associate but I did see a few pass by. If I had needed help, I could have flagged one down.
Display Quality: There were a couple of different closet displays, one for each brand. While there weren't at eye level nor at at arm's length, they were attractively arranged and somewhat styled.
Online Purchasing: Lowe's offers an online design tool for the Rubbermaid brand shelving. Both that brand and the Allen & Roth brand can be ordered online for store pick up or delivery.
THE BEST CLOSET SYSTEM SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
The Best: The Container Store was by far the most pleasurable shopping experience, owing largely to the fact that it's a store that specializes in shelving versus a big warehouse store that happens to have closet systems. Being able to get design assistance is also a huge plus, especially if you're not comfortable trying to maximize your closet space on your own.
Runner Up: Lowe's comes in as a close second. The aisle was organized and well stocked with clearly labeled shelving components and accessories. The displays, while out of reach, showed a nice representation of the product. Since you're on your own with design and construction, it would be a good choice for a confident DIYer.
(Images: Jason Loper)