A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll released today appeared to provide evidence that Kmart’s troubles run much deeper than a few under-performing stores.

Pollsters asked 1,011 adults whether they most preferred to shop at Wal-Mart, Kmart or Target. According to USA Today, 52% preferred Wal-Mart, 29% preferred Target, and only 13% preferred Kmart.

The newspaper said Kmart failed to rate first among any demographic of respondents. However, 58% said they had at one time been more likely to shop at the discount chain, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 22.

Shoppers told the newspaper that Target and Wal-Mart offer a greater variety of merchandise at lower prices. They also criticized Kmart for poor customer service, dim lighting and aisles littered with boxed-up merchandise.

The Troy, Mich.-based retailer is in the midst of a restructuring effort that may include closing several hundred stores. Kmart hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection in 2003.

According to USA Today, Kmart did best with Northeasterners, the less-educated, urban and rural populations (rather than people from the suburbs) and shoppers who earn less than $20,000 in annual household income.

Women older than 50 were twice as likely as their younger counterparts to prefer Kmart. For men, age appeared to make no difference, the paper reported, noting that among households earning $75,000 or more per year, only 5% prefer Kmart.

Target -- often jokingly referred to as "Tar-Jay" in a mock French pronunciation -- is the upscale consumer's first choice for discount shopping, the paper said.

-- Staff and wire reports