Best Places to Buy Large Appliances

CR's survey finds that some of the biggest retailers are not the best places to shop

A shopper measuring a refrigerator in a large-appliance store

What store comes to mind first when you think of shopping for a major home appliance? 

Consumers think of Lowe’s more than any other retailer, a new Consumer Reports survey on large-appliance retailers says. Nearly a quarter of CR members say it’s their top-of-mind choice for buying a big appliance. The next major retailers in line are Home Depot, Best Buy, and Sears. 

In fact, Lowe’s and Home Depot together account for almost half of all major-appliance sales to Consumer Reports members. Add Sears and Best Buy to the mix, and you’ve got almost two-thirds of the market covered.

Yet those top-of-mind stores aren’t the retailers our members like best. That honor goes to Abt, the Chicago-area retailer that is CR’s top major-appliance retailer for the 10th year in a row. Abt, which has one sprawling store in Glenview, Ill., but ships nationwide, earns top marks for almost every factor we measure—selection, service, in-store atmosphere, website usability, and home delivery. For price, it was rated above average.

By contrast, the four national big-box retailers generally get middling ratings for price, service, selection, and other factors—with a few favorable exceptions at Best Buy. In contrast, the retailers like Abt that are top-rated overall command a far smaller share of the market overall—3 percent or less each. 

Those are among the findings in Consumer Reports’ most recent appliance store survey, in which we asked more than 48,000 of our members about their experiences buying more than 72,000 small and large appliances online and in stores.

Go to Consumer Reports’ 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider shopping tips, and much more.

In our survey, three names—Ferguson, RC Willey Home Furnishings, and Warners’ Stellian—join our highest tier of major appliance stores. Here are the top-rated retailers across the individual factors we measure.

  • Price: Costco Wholesale.
  • Selection: Abt, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Warners’ Stellian.
  • Service: Eight retailers receive our most favorable mark.
  • In-store atmosphere: Six major appliance retailers get our top rating.
  • Website usability: Abt, Amazon.
  • Home delivery: Abt, Warners’ Stellian.
More on Major Appliances

Notably, Amazon and Famous Tate, two of last year’s top retailers, have dropped out of that group. Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears get so-so ratings in all categories. Best Buy does somewhat better, with commendable marks for service, in-store atmosphere, and website usability.

But as mediocre as the big box stores may seem, according to our survey, members still report a “very satisfactory” overall shopping experience. In our ratings, anything above 80 is considered very satisfactory. And all the large-appliance retailers in our survey earn an overall satisfaction rating of 83 or above.

“Something about the shopping experience at these retailers gives our members a more positive feeling overall than what each of our six ratings categories may capture on their own,” says Martin Lachter, a senior research associate in our survey department. “So while a retailer may not fare well on certain attributes, members may still report a satisfactory shopping experience overall.”

Shopping for Major Appliances

How you shop. Most major appliances—82 percent—are still bought in stores. While online sales have climbed to 18 percent from 11 percent five years ago, consumers still seem to prefer to go to a store to see the appliance they intend to buy. There are a few exceptions. “An overwhelming majority—87 percent—of Costco’s major-appliance sales are conducted online,” Lachter says. That’s probably because Costco offers a wider selection on its website than in its stores.

But should you buy a large appliance online? It’s one thing to buy a small appliance online. They’re delivered in easy-to-handle packages, and if they arrive damaged, you can easily return them. That may not be the case with major appliances.

“As soon as your new appliance arrives, and before the delivery people leave, look over the appliance carefully for visible defects,” says Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Consumers’ Checkbook. “Reject delivery of an appliance that arrives with scratches, dents, or other damage.”

If the damage is cosmetic and you need a working appliance while you await a defect-free replacement, call the manager of the store  and ask whether you can keep the damaged unit until a new one can be delivered, Brasler adds. “If you do receive a replacement unit, get the terms of the arrangement in writing—including expected delivery date—before the store’s installers leave.”

And consider buying appliances with a credit card to ensure that you are protected against a problem. That way, if something goes wrong, you can protest the charge.

What you buy. Major appliances are the workhorses of the home, so when one breaks, you usually need a replacement right away. In our survey, the most common buy among CR members—24 percent of purchases—was a washing machine. Refrigerators were the second most frequent purchase, at 19 percent. Dishwashers and clothes dryers were next, at 15 percent each. 

Getting a good deal. Price is the top reason shoppers avoid one retailer and patronize another. While price is important, most shoppers stop short of trying to haggle for a better deal. In fact, we found that haggling for big appliances has dropped to 28 percent from 36 percent in 2018. That’s too bad, because three-fourths of those who attempt to bargain end up getting a lower price, saving a median of $100 on large-appliance purchases.

It’s worth a try. Our members reported their experiences, and 30 percent of those who nabbed a better price said they did so by buying more than one appliance at once. Just as many were given a discount after checking prices at other retailers’ websites. Another good tip? Refer to prices found at other walk-in retailers, which worked for 21 percent of successful hagglers. Asking for a senior, veteran, or group membership discount was just as successful for those who tried. 

Notably, while fewer online shoppers tried haggling, those that did were successful at scoring a discount 75 percent of the time—higher than the 73 percent success rate among in-store shoppers. And online purchasers saved a median $109, more than the $100 for in-store hagglers. More than half of successful online bargain hunters in our survey got a price cut merely by calling the retailer. About a third used the chat window on the retailer’s website.

The warranty hard-sell. Another negotiation that takes place at the checkout counter is whether to buy an extended warranty. Almost 80 percent of in-store shoppers are pitched the idea of purchasing an extended warranty, and 18 percent buy one.

Some retailers are pushier than others. P.C. Richard & Son, based in New York and long identified in our surveys as the most aggressive hawker of extended warranties, relinquished that dubious honor to Bray & Scarff, with walk-in locations in and around Washington, D.C. Twenty-six percent members say they felt pressured to when pitched an extended warranty by Bray & Scarff; 25 percent of P.C. Richard customers felt that way. 

Salespeople’s efforts to sell warranties often pay off; 39 percent of P.C. Richard’s in-store major-appliance buyers pay for extra coverage, as do 38 percent of Bray & Scarff patrons. But a softer sell also works, our survey shows. For instance, 84 percent of members who shopped in-store for large appliances at RC Willey Home Furnishings say they were pitched—but not pressured—to buy an extended warranty, and 34 percent took the bait.

Do you really need an extended warranty? Your manufacturer’s warranty typically covers a year or more. And some credit cards double the length of the warranty when you use them for your purchase.

Best Large-Appliance Retailers

CR members can read on for profiles of the six 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 22 national major-appliance retailers. We also score independents as a separate group, and they get a top rating. 

Reader score: 94
Where it sells: 72 percent in-store; 28 percent online
CR’s take: With 100,000 square feet of floor space in a showroom outside Chicago, Abt carries a wide range of major and small appliances, and also sells electronics, office supplies, power tools, fitness gear, furniture, and mattresses. It earns perfect scores in 5 of 6 attributes we measure—selection, service, in-store atmosphere, website usability, and home delivery. Our members find its prices very good. 

Nebraska Furniture Mart
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 90 percent in-store; 10 percent online
CR’s take: In addition to its stores in Omaha, the Nebraska Furniture Mart has stores in Iowa, Kansas, and Texas. As you can guess from its name, the store sells furniture, but it also carries a full complement of major and small appliances. That’s reflected in its top rating for selection. It also earns top marks for service and in-store atmosphere, and favorable marks for price and home delivery. Its only middling score is for website usability.

Warners’ Stellian
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 97 percent in-store; 3 percent online
CR’s take: Most vendors at the top of CR’s large-appliance retailer ratings sell a lot of other products, too, but Warners’ Stellian stays true to its tagline: “Your Appliance Specialist.” Its walk-in stores are in Minnesota, save for one outpost in Iowa. CR members give the retailer stellar marks for selection, service, in-store atmosphere and home delivery. Web usability earns high praise. Prices, though, are rated middling.

RC Willey Home Furnishings
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 97 percent in-store; 3 percent online
CR’s take: In addition to large and small appliances, RC Willey sells electronics, flooring, furniture, home décor, outdoor and fitness equipment, and mattresses online and at walk-in stores in Idaho, Nevada, northern California, and Utah. Service and in-store atmosphere are high points for the retailer, based in Salt Lake City. RC Willey also gets above-average marks for selection and home delivery. Prices and web usability earn so-so scores.

Costco Wholesale
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 13 percent in-store; 87 percent online
CR’s take: Costco sells the lion’s share of its major appliances online, which is unusual for the walk-in stores on our list. That’s because it limits its in-store merchandise to a curated number of models and features a much larger selection online. So it’s no surprise that its stores get a lower-than-average mark for selection, and a middling score for service. Its prices, however, are judged to be very good. Costco also gets favorable ratings for website usability and home delivery. In spite of its cavernous, bare-bones warehouse design, Costco earns an above-average mark for in-store atmosphere—perhaps because of its practice of offering free food samples to shoppers.

Reader score: 90
Where it sells: 98 percent in-store; 2 percent online
CR’s take: The main business of this company, based in Newport News, Va., is contractors’ plumbing supplies, but it also sells kitchen and bathroom fixtures, lighting, and large appliances direct to consumers online and through more than 260 showrooms nationwide. CR members judge Ferguson’s in-store atmosphere to be exemplary; they give above-average marks for selection, service, and home delivery. However, this vendor only gets a subpar rating for price. (Not enough CR members judged website usability for us to provide a statistically meaningful score.)