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The best places to buy appliances

Readers rate the top retailers for big and small appliances

Consumer Reports magazine: July 2012

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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 more than 18,000 subscribers, price matters, and good customer service and quality are still elusive goals.

Online retailers are trying to make a play on traditional retailers. Amazon recently 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 sole 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 26,000 appliances. Here’s what we found:

  • Low prices and sales were the top reasons people went to a specific retailer. A third of respondents visited price-comparison websites before shopping. People were generally satisfied with the prices they paid, but no seller received our top grade.

  • Twenty-nine percent 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 only 3 percent of major-appliance shoppers complained of seeing few brands or models when they shopped at a walk-in retailer.

  • 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.

  • Getting hit with a pitch to buy an extended warranty at checkout has been a top annoyance in past surveys, and more than 85 percent 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. P.C. Richard was the pushiest, followed by Best Buy, HHGregg, and Sears.

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