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Should you buy a large appliance online?

Delivery is often free but don't expect to skip out on the sales tax

Published: July 13, 2015 02:15 PM

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Buying a small appliance—say, a blender or toaster—online is one thing, but what about big-ticket items, such as a refrigerator or washing machine? In a recent survey, in which Consumer Reports asked more than 21,000 readers to tell us about their appliance shopping experiences in the last year, only 11 percent of respondents said they took the plunge and bought a major appliance online. It can be a money-saving strategy, but keep these tips in mind:

Taxes usually apply

Though you might be able to save on shipping, don’t count on the purchase being tax-free. The rules are complicated and vary by state, so the best policy is to assume that the tax will be included.

It still pays to shop in stores

Spending a few thousand bucks on a refrigerator, range, or other high-priced appliance without first seeing it in person can be a pricey leap of faith. That’s why we recommend a hands-on visit to a store showroom before you make a big purchase online. Be on the lookout for flimsy parts, tricky-to-handle controls, or other flaws that could be annoying, especially on appliances that you use every day.

Always try to get a better deal

It’s not quite as easy as walking up to a salesperson in the store, but once you get through to the right customer-service rep (either by phone or online chat), it’s worth asking whether the price is negotiable. In our national reader survey, people who haggled spent about $100 less on their appliance purchase.

What to do with your old unit

Many brick-and-mortar retailers offer free haul-away of old units. Online shoppers typically have to get rid of their appliances on their own. Check with your utility company to see if it offers free haul-away as part of an energy efficiency program. You might even receive a small rebate, say $50, for removing an older, energy-wasting appliance from the power grid. If the unit is still working, consider donating it to a local charity.

Photo: Travis Rathbone

Where to buy large appliances online

Abt Electronics. Superb selection in the 100,000-square-foot showroom of this Chicago area-based appliance store is one reason that Abt Electronics has landed at the top of our appliance retailer survey year after year for large appliance sales. Abt delivers free within 100 miles of its store, and orders of $35 or are shipped free within the continental U.S. Our readers give the retailer high marks across the board.

Amazon.com. A favorite of our readers for buying small appliances, Amazon didn’t get top marks for price—that was Costco. But for selection, product quality, ease of checkout, and other categories, it gets top honors in our appliance survey. You can also buy large appliances on Amazon’s website although the order may be fulfilled by one of Amazon’s partners. According to Amazon’s customer service policy,  “large item shipping is free of charge,”  but check details before submitting your order.

—Adapted from ShopSmart magazine

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