We shopped at GNC and Vitamin Shoppe to see which supplement store is better

GNC storefrontShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

  • Health supplement chains GNC and Vitamin Shoppe sell similar products. But they have different stories when it comes to the store experience.
  • GNC is planning on closing up to 900 stores by the end of 2020 because of declining mall traffic, CEO Ken Martindale told investors in July.
  • Meanwhile, shares of Vitamin Shoppe soared on Thursday after tax preparing company Liberty Tax said it would acquire the chain for $208 million.
  • We visited stores of both chains to see which was better and were surprised to find that GNC offered a better experience overall.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

GNC and Vitamin Shoppe are two chains that specialize in health and nutrition.

Both offer similar products, but each store has its own devotees.

Read more: We compared the shopping experience at the Walmart and Rite Aid pharmacies, and the drugstore chain came out on top

GNC announced in July that it plans to close up to 900 stores by the end of 2020, increasing from the projected 700 closures the chain had previously estimated. The move came as a result of declining mall traffic, CEO Ken Martindale told investors in July. GNC plans to cut down its mall locations by almost half.

The Vitamin Shoppe said in its first-quarter earnings report in May that it plans to close 60 to 80 stores over the next three years. But shares of the chain soared more than 40% in pre-market trading on Thursday after it announced that it would be acquired by tax preparation company Liberty Tax for $208 million.

We visited both stores to see which was better for health and nutrition supplement shopping. Though the offerings were overall similar, GNC won us over with its clean and organized store filled with interactive add-ons that boosted the customer experience.

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We went to a Jersey City GNC first. We aren't big fitness people and don't usually frequent nutrition supplement stores, so we didn't know what to expect.

We went to a Jersey City GNC first. We aren't big fitness people and don't usually frequent nutrition supplement stores, so we didn't know what to expect.

A sign in the window let us know that we could get 50% off something if we bought two items.

A sign in the window let us know that we could get 50% off something if we bought two items.

We entered the store with an open mind. The space was not so big — only a few aisles or so — but it was organized in a way so that someone who was unfamiliar with the products could maneuver with ease.

We entered the store with an open mind. The space was not so big — only a few aisles or so — but it was organized in a way so that someone who was unfamiliar with the products could maneuver with ease.

A pyramid of containers with GNC Wheybolic protein caught our attention.

A pyramid of containers with GNC Wheybolic protein caught our attention.

We took a good look at the store and were happy to find that everything was extraordinarily neat and spacious, even for a store on the smaller side.

We took a good look at the store and were happy to find that everything was extraordinarily neat and spacious, even for a store on the smaller side.

We found a neat display of energy drinks and GNC-brand electrolyte water. Many of these products were going for less than $3 each.

We found a neat display of energy drinks and GNC-brand electrolyte water. Many of these products were going for less than $3 each.

There were also some refrigerated drinks nearby. Some of the drinks were a part of a mix and match deal, where you could buy five and get one free.

There were also some refrigerated drinks nearby. Some of the drinks were a part of a mix and match deal, where you could buy five and get one free.

There were tons of different vitamin supplement options. We found a section of GNC Earth Genius supplements filled with key nutrients for a diet ...

There were tons of different vitamin supplement options. We found a section of GNC Earth Genius supplements filled with key nutrients for a diet ...

... as well as a whole section devoted to vitamins and health supplements for women and kids.

... as well as a whole section devoted to vitamins and health supplements for women and kids.

But most of the products in the store seemed to be protein-based and tailored to customers that wanted to bulk up. A large segment of the store was devoted to different protein powders and supplements.

But most of the products in the store seemed to be protein-based and tailored to customers that wanted to bulk up. A large segment of the store was devoted to different protein powders and supplements.

Some of the protein supplements had flavors that looked like they could be tasty — like this mint chocolate chip ice cream jug from Syntha 6.

Some of the protein supplements had flavors that looked like they could be tasty — like this mint chocolate chip ice cream jug from Syntha 6.

There was also a selection of "Woke AF" high stimulant pre-workout dietary supplements. They were meant to maximize energy and focus.

There was also a selection of "Woke AF" high stimulant pre-workout dietary supplements. They were meant to maximize energy and focus.

A store associate directed us to a shelf filled with free samples of different protein-infused products. There was even a cinnamon churro-flavored dietary supplement with zero grams of sugar.

A store associate directed us to a shelf filled with free samples of different protein-infused products. There was even a cinnamon churro-flavored dietary supplement with zero grams of sugar.

Nearby, we found an interesting gadget that measured a person's height, weight and body fat percentage to calculate a person's body mass index (BMI). It cost $1 to use.

Nearby, we found an interesting gadget that measured a person's height, weight and body fat percentage to calculate a person's body mass index (BMI). It cost $1 to use.

We were surprised at the number of different GNC products on sale, such as these eco-friendly $0.99 tote bags.

We were surprised at the number of different GNC products on sale, such as these eco-friendly $0.99 tote bags.

We also found a GNC protein shake container near the back of the store.

We also found a GNC protein shake container near the back of the store.

Our favorite section was the snack section, which featured different protein-infused chips, cookies, and bars — and most of them actually looked delicious.

Our favorite section was the snack section, which featured different protein-infused chips, cookies, and bars — and most of them actually looked delicious.

These Quest Protein Chips came in a variety of flavors and were less than $3 a pouch.

These Quest Protein Chips came in a variety of flavors and were less than $3 a pouch.

Before we left, we took a look at the weight management section and found this triple fat burner for about $13.

Before we left, we took a look at the weight management section and found this triple fat burner for about $13.

We left GNC without buying anything. Most of the products seemed tailored to men looking to bulk up, though we appreciated the free samples and BMI machine in the store, which made the shopping experience more interactive. Overall, GNC seemed like a great stop for nutrition and vitamin supplements.

We left GNC without buying anything. Most of the products seemed tailored to men looking to bulk up, though we appreciated the free samples and BMI machine in the store, which made the shopping experience more interactive. Overall, GNC seemed like a great stop for nutrition and vitamin supplements.

Next, we visited a Vitamin Shoppe. Unlike the GNC we visited, this store was not located in a mall, but instead on a busy corner in Manhattan's Financial District.

Next, we visited a Vitamin Shoppe. Unlike the GNC we visited, this store was not located in a mall, but instead on a busy corner in Manhattan's Financial District.

Interestingly, this store was also advertising a buy one, get one 50% sale, but this sale was limited to optimum nutrition products for high performance. Another sign let us know we would be able to find some snacks here as well.

Interestingly, this store was also advertising a buy one, get one 50% sale, but this sale was limited to optimum nutrition products for high performance. Another sign let us know we would be able to find some snacks here as well.

There was also a protein powder pyramid here, which made us wonder if such a display is a staple in every health and nutrition store.

There was also a protein powder pyramid here, which made us wonder if such a display is a staple in every health and nutrition store.

The interior of the store was smaller than GNC and seemed a lot more disorganized. Some products were on shelves so high up that they required a ladder to get to them.

The interior of the store was smaller than GNC and seemed a lot more disorganized. Some products were on shelves so high up that they required a ladder to get to them.

The aisles were also narrower than those at GNC.

The aisles were also narrower than those at GNC.

The store was also pretty messy. Toward the front of the store, there seemed to be a display table with different products, but it was blocked by a bunch of empty boxes.

The store was also pretty messy. Toward the front of the store, there seemed to be a display table with different products, but it was blocked by a bunch of empty boxes.

In fact, a lot of the already small store was made more cramped by the presence of boxes and other objects that seemed out of place.

In fact, a lot of the already small store was made more cramped by the presence of boxes and other objects that seemed out of place.

This massive air conditioning unit was blocking an entire section of an aisle and was an unsightly addition to the store.

This massive air conditioning unit was blocking an entire section of an aisle and was an unsightly addition to the store.

We even found what appeared to be a huge bag of trash in the back of the store.

We even found what appeared to be a huge bag of trash in the back of the store.

It looked like the store had just received a shipment of different products, which explained a lot of the chaos we were witnessing.

It looked like the store had just received a shipment of different products, which explained a lot of the chaos we were witnessing.

But in certain places, the mess was still unbearable.

But in certain places, the mess was still unbearable.

When it came to products, we found a lot of items that were similar to or the same as those we had found in GNC. There was a large selection of multivitamins ...

When it came to products, we found a lot of items that were similar to or the same as those we had found in GNC. There was a large selection of multivitamins ...

... as well as some superfood products with antioxidants and energy, similar to some products we had seen at GNC.

... as well as some superfood products with antioxidants and energy, similar to some products we had seen at GNC.

Of course, there was a large selection of protein supplements and powders.

Of course, there was a large selection of protein supplements and powders.

We even found some Syntha 6 products that offered similar flavors as GNC.

We even found some Syntha 6 products that offered similar flavors as GNC.

We questioned the large sizes of some of the protein supplements. Lifting one of these bags probably constituted a workout by itself.

We questioned the large sizes of some of the protein supplements. Lifting one of these bags probably constituted a workout by itself.

We also found some testosterone support products that were enclosed in glass towards the back of the store.

We also found some testosterone support products that were enclosed in glass towards the back of the store.

There didn't seem to be any Vitamin Shoppe-brand merchandise in the store. We found a plastic protein shake holder for sale, but it didn't have any Vitamin Shoppe logo on it.

There didn't seem to be any Vitamin Shoppe-brand merchandise in the store. We found a plastic protein shake holder for sale, but it didn't have any Vitamin Shoppe logo on it.

The snack selection was similar to the one at GNC, but this protein popcorn stood out to us, especially the cotton candy flavor, which looked too tasty to be good for us.

The snack selection was similar to the one at GNC, but this protein popcorn stood out to us, especially the cotton candy flavor, which looked too tasty to be good for us.

Before we left, we decided to pick up a multivitamin — the women's health section had a bunch of options, but we settled on this Vitamin Shoppe-brand tablet.

Before we left, we decided to pick up a multivitamin — the women's health section had a bunch of options, but we settled on this Vitamin Shoppe-brand tablet.

At the check-out counter, we found some more snacks.

At the check-out counter, we found some more snacks.

In terms of offerings, Vitamin Shoppe and GNC were practically on par with one another. But the interactive add-ons and organized store layout of GNC won us over and made it the store with the better shopping experience.

In terms of offerings, Vitamin Shoppe and GNC were practically on par with one another. But the interactive add-ons and organized store layout of GNC won us over and made it the store with the better shopping experience.
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