Our product testers can tell you which refrigerator or dishwasher delivers the most value. But then you have to find the hottest deal. To make your shopping easier, we asked almost 25,000 subscribers about their latest experiences buying major and small appliances. Their responses, and advice from our experts, can provide a road map to great savings:
More consumers are finding value and convenience online, especially in the small-appliance category, where 86 percent of respondents told us they were highly satisfied with their shopping experience. Amazon.com earned top marks for price, selection, and product quality, making it the best major retailer rated for small-ticket appliance purchases for the fourth year in a row.
Shoppers still prefer walk-in stores for major appliances (81 percent high satisfaction compared with 75 percent online), but more people are warming to the idea of making a purchase online. Try a hybrid approach at stores: Order an item off the Web site and pick it up at the store, which saves on shipping fees.
Retailers introduce promotions throughout the year. Sears, in particular, uses a "hi-low" strategy, offering certain goods at bargain prices and marking up others. With that in mind, you can wait for the best deal on a desired item by signing up for e-mail alerts and keeping tabs on newspaper circulars.
It also pays to register on manufacturers' Web sites; they seldom sell directly to consumers, but most have mail-in rebates and other "manufacturer events." GE, for example, recently offered a free stainless-steel upgrade on select appliances. During the "Maytag Month" promo in May, you could get up to $500 in mail-in rebates with the purchase of four appliances. As a general rule, deep discounts are standard on suites of appliances. To find the best price on single items, use online deal finders such as PriceGrabber.com. Keep a printout of the best coupons to present to other retailers that offer low-price guarantees. Home Depot, for example, will beat a competitor's price by 10 percent on any in-stock item.
Rebates and tax credits on energy-efficient appliances are a final source of savings; for example, parts of Oregon offer $180 in tax credits on qualifying washers. A knowledgeable sales staff (independents, Sears, and hhgregg stood out in our survey) might be up on the latest programs.
In another recent survey of our subscribers, only 10 percent of people who bought small appliances and 33 percent of people who bought major appliances tried to negotiate over prices. But around 75 percent of those who did try to bargain succeeded. Those respondents reported that they saved a median of $100 for major appliances and $50 for small appliances.
When purchasing appliances, effective haggling is part prep work, part attitude. Start by researching market price, and time your purchase to the months when retailers make room for the next year's models (spring for refrigerators, fall for cooking appliances, winter for washers and dryers). That will help you negotiate from a position of power, but remember that being polite to the salesperson can get you a better deal.
Paying cash is also a good bargaining chip, especially with independent retailers, who will appreciate not having to pay a transaction fee to the credit-card company. If you don't mind minor blemishes or minimal wear and tear, ask about discounts on floor models. Remember to inquire about free delivery and installation, as well as disposal of the old appliance.
Walmart has decent deals on small appliances, but the retail giant's narrow aisles, missing price tags, and long checkout lines can make for an all-around frustrating experience, readers said. Our respondents reported a similar trade-off at Costco, where excellent prices were countered by limited service, selection, and checkout.
Far fewer in-store problems occurred at independent retailers, especially with small-appliance purchases. Sears also did very well on the small wares, but for major appliances, it couldn't deliver the same satisfaction you'd find at independents. A regional player in the Midwest and Southeast, hhgregg, was the only non-independent retailer rated above average for shopping ease with major purchases. Wherever you shop, going on weekdays or early weekend mornings beats the crowds.
Most appliances don't break during the extended warranty period. But that hasn't stopped retailers, especially P.C. Richard & Son, Sears, and hhgregg, from trying to persuade consumers to purchase an extended warranty. One-fifth of major appliance shoppers took the bait, paying an average of $146 for an extended warranty or service contract. But eight out of ten of those consumers said the terms and conditions weren't made clear by the salesperson. Use our brand repair histories to find the least repair-prone brands.