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Appliance stores

Appliance store buying guide

Last updated: May 2013

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Getting started

Retailers have been upping their game, pursuing you wherever you are. In an economy that remains wobbly, opening new stores is harder than seeking out customers where they live: online. Retailers also want to get onto your smart phones and iPads with free "lifestyle" apps--and vie for a bigger share of your available cash.

While retailers say "show me the money," for shoppers it's "show me the deals." According to our exclusive appliance-buying survey of tens of thousands of subscribers, price matters, and good customer service and quality are sometimes elusive goals.

Online retailers are trying to make a play on traditional retailers. Amazon made a splash by offering 5 percent discounts to users of its Price Check app, which lets you scan the bar code of a product in a store or snap a photo to learn Amazon's price.

When survey respondent Marc Hamilton made his first online major-appliance purchase, Amazon was the seller--but Abt Electronics, which maintains a webstore on Amazon's site, was the partner and handled delivery from its Chicago-area location. "I hadn't heard of Abt, but I did some online research and liked what I saw," says Hamilton, who lives in the St. Louis area. "I had no complaints whatsoever with either company."

For our survey, subscribers told us about their overall satisfaction based on experiences buying almost 30,000 appliances.

Price gets you in the door

Low prices and sales were the top reasons people went to a specific retailer. Many respondents visited price-comparison websites before shopping. People were generally satisfied with the prices they paid.

About a third of respondents tried negotiating down a major appliance's price, with success more than 70 percent of the time--to the tune of $95 on average for large appliances. Shoppers for small appliances such as air conditioners and vacuum cleaners were almost as successful in driving down the price when they tried.

Shopping tip: Look for discount coupons from retailer and manufacturer websites.

Selection and service vary

A fair number of major-appliance shoppers went to a retailer because the store stocked a particular brand or model. But far fewer chose a seller specifically for its selection, and a small number of major-appliance shoppers complained of seeing few brands or models when they shopped at a walk-in retailer.

Shopping tip: If a store doesn't carry the model you're looking for, ask whether it can order it for you from another store.

Our readers evaluated direct contact with store personnel, in the store or over the phone, in judging service. Almost all respondents shopping for a major appliance at a walk-in store interacted with sales staff, though only about half of those shopping for a small appliance did so. The top problem, particularly for small-appliance shoppers, was salespeople who didn't seem knowledgeable.

Very few of those appliance shoppers complained that the sales staff didn't seem interested in helping them.

Shopping tip: Some stores let you bypass the showroom floor altogether by shopping online, getting questions answered in a chat window, and picking up the item at a store of your choosing.

Extended warranties

Getting hit with a pitch to buy an extended warranty at checkout has been a top annoyance in past surveys, and the majority of subscribers who bought a major appliance said their retailer at least suggested they buy one. Still, a quarter of major-appliance buyers did, and most who purchased one didn't regret it.

We don't recommend extended warranties. Past research has shown that the bill for any needed repair is often comparable with the typical cost of a warranty.

Shopping tip: If you've researched a product, you already know how reliable it is or you wouldn't be buying it. That's often a good rejoinder for any extended-warranty pitch you may get during checkout. And before buying the appliance, ask whether there are any costs for shipping, installation, and, for a major appliance, haul-away of your old one. Then put on your bargaining hat and ask whether the store will provide those free to close the deal.

   

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