If you’re looking to buy large appliances or small appliances for yourself or as a holiday gift, Abt Electronics and Appliances and Amazon are the top places to shop.

Abt, a huge store outside Chicago that ships around the country, is among the highest-rated major-appliance retailers in Consumer Reports’ exclusive survey of best and worst appliance retailers for the eighth year running.

Amazon has been one of the top-rated small-appliance sellers in our survey for 12 years in a row. So it’s no surprise that according to our survey, three out of five online small-appliance purchases our subscribers made were from Amazon.

More on Shopping for Appliances

Abt and Amazon beat out the national players—where most people shop for major appliances, including Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Sears. Lowe’s accounts for about a quarter of all major appliances that our subscribers buy; Home Depot and Sears account for 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

In our survey, we asked readers to rate the 62,000 appliance purchases they made from the spring of 2016 to the spring of 2017 at 30 chain retailers across the country as well as from independent retailers and manufacturers. They rated retailers on price, selection, service, and other aspects. Here’s what the survey respondents said.

 

Major-Appliance Stores

Best place to shop. Abt gets top marks across the board, except for price, where it still earned a Very Good score. Subscribers like the prices, selection, and shipping at Amazon and give the website high marks for usability.

Costco also receives high marks on most measures. It snags the only top rating for price, though it gets dinged for its lack of selection. Perhaps that makes sense, because warehouse clubs tend to have a limited number of models on display at their walk-in stores.

Worst place to shop. Anchoring the bottom of our major-appliance ratings is Menards, which gets Poor marks (the lowest in our ratings) for selection, service, and its website usability, a subpar rating for price, and only a middling rating for its in-store atmosphere. Sears isn’t much better than Menards overall, buoyed only by favorable marks for installation and haul-away scores.

Small-Appliance Stores

Best place to shop. Abt and Amazon rule the day, and Williams-Sonoma isn’t far behind, faulted only for its prices. All three get a Very Good or Excellent score for their websites and shipping, which are important to online shoppers.

Worst place to shop. Sears is near the bottom again, along with Kmart, which is also owned by Sears Holdings. Walmart falls ever so slightly below both, with Poor ratings for selection, service, and in-store atmosphere.

How to Be a Smarter Shopper

Try before you buy. Online shopping has steadily increased over the years. Forty-three percent of small appliances are now purchased online, up from 25 percent three years ago. Buying major appliances online has also increased, to 14 percent from 11 percent in that same time frame.

But even shoppers who buy online like to go a store to touch and see the appliance they’re considering. More than one in three major appliance shoppers in our survey who ended up buying online went to a walk-in store first to check out the products.

Haggle to save. Too many shoppers leave money on the table when they forgo haggling, because it often works. Thirty percent of major-appliance shoppers haggled for a better price on their purchase, and 72 percent of them were successful, saving a median of $98. Only 5 percent of small-appliance shoppers haggle, but when they do their success rate is just as good as major-appliance hagglers, and they save a median of $40.

Simply asking for a lower price is still the most commonly used haggling technique among successful negotiators. Checking out prices found at other retailers and referring to them was also found to be helpful.

Few online major-appliance shoppers attempt to haggle—either by phone or by using the chat window—but when they do, they’re almost as successful and the amount they save is virtually the same as for those shoppers buying from a walk-in store. (Read about the benefits of online haggling.)

Beware the warranty hard sell. One out of every five major-appliance buyers signs up for an extended warranty or service contract. P.C. Richard & Son is the pushiest retailer when it comes to selling such agreements, a dubious distinction that it’s held for several years. Sears also tries harder than its competitors to get consumers to commit to these agreements, second only to P.C. Richard.

Overall, the median price paid for a major-appliance extended warranty or service contract in our survey is $126. Lowe’s customers typically pay less for extended warranties and service contracts on refrigerators and washing machines than shoppers at Best Buy, Home Depot, and Sears.

But when you’re standing at the checkout counter, it’s difficult to read the small print in an extended warranty or service plan, and Consumer Reports says there are lots of reasons not to buy one.

For starters, some credit cards automatically extend the manufacturer's warranty free of charge. And manufacturers sometimes cover out-of-warranty products if they break in an unreasonably short time or other consumers are experiencing similar problems.

So do your homework before heading out to the store. Your best bet is to buy a brand that does well in CR’s reliability ratings, which can be found on the ratings page of most product categories we test.

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