Best Places to Buy—and Bargain for—Large Appliances

In CR's exclusive member survey, Abt scores tops for price, service, and even successful haggling. But other retailers are open to deal-making, too.

Washer and dryers seen on display at Costco.
Costco and Abt are the standouts for large-appliance prices, though no retailer gets the top mark.
Photo: Stephen Yang

Abt, the giant Chicagoland retailer, is one of the best places in the U.S. to buy—and bargain for—major appliances, even during the pandemic.

The retailer, in Glenview, Ill., tops Consumer Reports’ new ratings of major-appliance retailers for the 12th year in a row. It earns superlative marks for almost every factor we measure in our survey-based ratings.

What’s more, CR’s member survey found that Abt is the easiest place to negotiate. Among CR members who tried to haggle on price there, 92 percent were successful. Their median savings: $124.

Abt is hardly the only place to cut a deal, though. At three big-box stores, CR members who negotiated were successful in cutting their bill most of the time, saving about $100. Yet our survey shows that less than a quarter of shoppers even attempted to bargain.

Stores Worth the Haggle

For this survey, more than 38,000 CR members told us about their experiences purchasing 56,000 small and large appliances from the beginning of 2020 through the end of May 2021. From their experiences, Consumer Reports rated 20 major-appliance retail chains, plus individual manufacturers and independent appliance retailers as two separate groups.

More on Major Appliances

About that haggling: Our survey found that only 23 percent of our members tried to strike a deal when buying a large appliance, down from 28 percent in our 2020 survey. Yet two-thirds of those who did ended up with a lower price, saving a median of $119. That’s up from $113 in our 2020 survey and $100 in 2019. (CR doesn’t have information on final prices of the items purchased.)

As with the regional retailer Abt, negotiations with national big-box stores—and other retailers—paid off:

• At Best Buy, 69 percent of bargainers were successful, cutting a median of $130 off their purchase price.

• The success rate at Lowe’s was 64 percent and the median savings was $120.

• Home Depot hagglers scored a deal 61 percent of the time, shaving a median of $96 from their bills.

• At independent retailers, 71 percent of hagglers won a discount; the median saved was $120. 

• Three-quarters of bargainers at two other stores—Spencers TV & Appliance and P.C. Richard & Son—said they successfully earned a deal, though CR doesn’t have enough data to say how much they saved.

Tactics That Work

Haggling success, we found, doesn’t depend on being face-to-face with a salesperson. In our survey, online shoppers who haggled were often as successful as in-store hagglers at getting a discount. No surprise during the pandemic, 29 percent of our members said they bought their major appliance online, up from 22 percent in our 2020 survey.

“Online appliance shoppers shouldn’t be afraid to bargain over price,” says Tian Wang, a research associate in CR’s Survey Research department, which conducted the survey. “Though few online shoppers are likely to do it, those who do are just as successful as their in-store counterparts at negotiating a discount.”

Our members report trying a number of price-negotiation tactics. The most common are purchasing several items at once or referring to prices offered by other retailers. Another effective bargaining method is pointing out that you’re a veteran or older person. Among successful hagglers, 15 percent used no special leverage; they just asked. 

It also can’t hurt to ask a retailer to offer services such as delivery, installation, and free haul-away if they’re not already provided. (Costco distinguishes itself among major retailers by generally including delivery and basic hookup in the price of its large appliances, and not charging to haul away the old one.)

Read our tips on buying and haggling for a large appliance.

Surprising Shopping Successes and Disappointments

Notably, CR’s survey found that most shoppers have been able to find and buy the large appliance of their choice in spite of COVID-19-related supply-chain slowdowns and shortfalls. About two-thirds of large-appliance shoppers—65 percent—said they bought the large appliance they had their eye on. Only 8 percent had to buy an alternative when the one they wanted was unavailable. (Twenty-seven percent didn’t start shopping with a model in mind.)

Shoppers seeking a specific dishwasher were among the most likely to have to choose an alternative to their top choice. Even so, that happened to only 11 percent of them. Ten percent of refrigerator and freezer buyers had to settle.

Getting the desired model often means shopping around. A third of all shoppers who bailed on a retailer during their shopping process did so due to problems with product availability. Another 15 percent said the retailer didn’t have enough models on display. Home Depot and Lowe’s were the stores most likely to be abandoned; a quarter of survey respondents said they eventually went elsewhere. Nonetheless, nearly half of all the major appliances in our survey were purchased from those two retail giants.

But while consumers generally were able to eventually nab the big kitchen and laundry machines of their choice, their survey responses revealed other disappointments:

  Fewer retailers shine. Just four stores are rated tops for overall satisfaction: Abt, Costco, Omaha-based Nebraska Furniture Mart, and Spencers TV & Appliance in the Phoenix region. That compares with eight chains and independent retailers that scored that way in our 2020 survey. As in past years, regional chains and independents as a whole rate higher than national chains and big-box stores. 

Timely delivery is a sore point. Abt alone excels in timeliness of delivery. Seattle-based Albert Lee, the online retailer Appliances Connection, and national merchandisers Home Depot and Sears get subpar ratings for delivery timeliness, the first time in three surveys that a major-appliance retailer has scored this low for delivery. Only 10 vendors earn above-average ratings for delivery.

Great prices are elusive. Not one retailer is rated best for price. Only Abt and Costco earn above-average scores for price, compared with 13 retailers rated that way in our 2020 survey. Eight retailers actually received below-average scores for price. They are Albert Lee Appliance in the Seattle area; metro D.C.-area Bray & Scarff; Ferguson and P.C. Richard & Son, both in the New York metro area; Grand Appliance & TV and Menard’s in the Midwest; Home Depot (nationwide); and Sears Hometown Stores, which are mainly in the Northeast.

Pandemic's Impact on Pricing

There’s little incentive during the pandemic to keep prices low, explains David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research in Cleveland. High consumer demand coupled with supply-chain kinks that include clogged ports, a shortage of some parts, and a dearth of truckers to transport them has meant fewer deals over the past year. 

“Why discount something that consumers are lining up and waiting five to six weeks to buy?” he asks.

With prices disappointing, our members put as much or more stock in service, installation, and delivery timeliness.

“In the past, price was the strongest indicator of the overall satisfaction score a retailer would earn,” says Simon Slater, associate director of CR’s Survey Research department, which creates the ratings. “Now, it’s just one of several meaningful indicators.”

Read our other tips on buying a large appliance.

Best Large-Appliance Retailers

CR members can read on for profiles of the four major-appliance retailers that earn a top score from our members. To see how other sellers fare in our appliance store ratings, see our full list of 20 national major-appliance retailers. We also score independents and major-appliance manufacturers as separate groups.

Become a member to read the full article and get access to digital ratings.

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