Where to buy appliances

Abt, Amazon, and QVC beat the big chains

Last reviewed: July 2011
Image of a TV screen with QVC on it
Screen saver
The QVC shopping channel had among the highest scores for reader satisfaction in our latest survey.

It's not just about the big retail stores anymore.

Online stores, independent local retailers, and even a TV shopping channel have been among the most satisfying places to buy, according to more than 16,000 subscribers who told us about their recent appliance purchases.

Abt Electronics, which is based in the Chicago area and ships nationwide, reaped praise from shoppers who bought one or more appliances in the past year. Amazon and the QVC shopping channel topped the list for small appliances.

The latest survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center added questions on satisfaction with shipping and installation. It also asked about haul-away of old appliances and about returns.

We didn't have enough responses to report on every appliance retailer, but Sears and Best Buy in particular received low grades for returns.

Respondents had some criticism about shopping for small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, gas grills, and coffeemakers. Product selection, service at the time of purchase, and the checkout experience were particular sore points, especially at Walmart and its warehouse-club sibling, Sam's Club.

Here are some tips for shopping:

Plan ahead to get good prices

Overall, people were generally happy with their experiences shopping for appliances, especially compared with other consumer services we measure. But some strategies they tried made shopping more successful.

Almost 30 percent of those shopping for major appliances looked up buying advice on retailers' websites before making their purchase. Of those shoppers, 75 percent found it helpful. Close to 80 percent who phoned the retailer and more than half who e-mailed for information considered it worth their while.

Timing purchases can help, too. Sales before and after the winter holidays are common. In September or October, retailers also tend to cut prices on cooking appliances to make room for next year's models. Refrigerators might go on sale around May for the same reason.

You can sometimes combine special offers from a product's manufacturer and from a store, or save by buying multiple appliances. But first you have to find the offers. If you sign up on a retailer's website weeks before a purchase, you can get e-mail offering coupons and other promotional deals such as rebates, free shipping, and so-called VIP sales.

Haggling often helps as well, according to the 35 percent of major-appliance shoppers who tried to negotiate prices: Seventy-two percent of them said they were successful. The payoff was a median savings of $97. Only 8 percent of small-appliance shoppers tried to bargain, but 62 percent haggled their way to victory and a median savings of $59.

Choose a store for its selection

Survey respondents who bought major appliances praised Abt Electronics and the Best Buy-owned Pacific Sales for having an ample selection. Home Depot got low marks for its selection of small and major appliances.

Abt is an unusually large store, with 350,000 square feet of space, a 7,500-gallon aquarium in the center, and a big selection. It has a staff of 1,100 and up to 1,500 customers a day.

Amazon received high marks overall from shoppers for small appliances and was a standout for selection.

"From our very founding we said we were going to be customer obsessed," said Jeff Bezos, chairman and chief executive of Amazon, on a recent visit to our Yonkers, N.Y., headquarters.

Respondents were less pleased with the range of choices at Costco and Sam's Club, the two warehouse clubs in our survey, than with other retailers selling small appliances.