Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears may sell the most large appliances in the U.S.—and Walmart the most small ones—but they aren’t necessarily customer favorites. Our latest survey of more than 22,000 readers shows that Amazon.com and local independent retailers meet or beat the big boys on selection and leave them in the dust when it comes to good old-fashioned service.
Savvy shoppers rated Chicago-area Abt Electronics best overall for large appliances for the fourth year, and for good reason. Abt topped our scores for selection, service, and checkout ease, among other areas, which can mean the difference between a satisfying experience and a shopping nightmare. It was also among the best for low prices, which are the biggest draw for most shoppers. Don’t live near the Windy City? Abt ships anywhere within the lower 48 states, and sells online from its site and on Amazon.
Online buying is growing fastest for small appliances: Roughly 25 percent were bought that way in 2013 compared with 16 percent the year before. Amazon.com topped most small-appliance retailers and outdid QVC.com for selection. Relatively low prices for both online retailers and better service this year from Amazon are likely part of that strong showing.
Here’s how the stores—online and off—compare when judged on price, selection, and service based on almost 30,000 purchases:
Lowest prices. Think Best Buy and Costco. Big-box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s offer one-stop shopping if you’re buying lumber along with your fridge. But when it comes to the best large appliance deals, Best Buy beat them and matched both Abt Electronics and a regional player, HHGregg. Shopping for smaller stuff? No one matched Costco on price; the warehouse club edged out Sam’s Club and even Amazon.com and QVC.com.
Best selection. Hit Abt, HHGregg, and Pacific Sales. For variety, none of the largest chains matched those three regional retailers for large appliances or Amazon.com for small ones. But if you want to buy food with your food processor, you’re likely to get more choices at Target than at Costco, Sam’s Club, or Walmart.
Service and easy checkout. Shop the locals. As our Ratings show, it’s hard to beat your neighborhood mom and pop retailer if you want attentive, knowledgeable salespeople and you prefer a physical store over a virtual one. And when it comes to small appliances, our shoppers gave Kmart, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart our lowest marks for service. Common complaints included inexpert, hard-to-find sales help. Hate long waits? Then consider skipping Sears, which got mediocre scores for checkout ease. For small appliances, choose Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, and Kohl’s—and steer clear of Kmart, Sam’s Club, and Walmart.