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Best Places to Buy Large Appliances

CR's survey finds that consumers are turned off by some of the biggest retailers but shop there anyway

Measuring a fridge in a large appliance store.

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 70 percent of the market covered.

Yet with a few exceptions at Best Buy, all four retailers get middling scores or worse for satisfaction when it comes to prices, service, selection, and other factors. The retailers that rate best command a far smaller share of the market among our members—3 percent or less each.

That’s just one of the findings in Consumer Reports’ most recent appliance store survey, in which we asked 46,000 of our members about their experiences buying 68,000 small and large appliances online and in stores. Abt, which has one sprawling store in Glenview, Ill., but ships nationwide, is the top major-appliance retailer for the ninth year in a row. It earns top marks for every factor we measure—price, selection, service, in-store atmosphere, website usability, and shipping/delivery.


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This year a newcomer to the list—Famous Tate, a chain of stores based in the Tampa Bay area—takes second place, edging out Amazon, which was second last year. Here are the top-rated retailers across the individual factors we measure.

  • Price: Abt, Costco
  • Selection: Abt, Nebraska Furniture Mart
  • Service: Six retailers receive our most favorable mark.
  • In-store atmosphere: Seven major appliance retailers get our top rating.
  • Website usability: Abt, Amazon
  • Shipping/delivery: Abt, Amazon

Notice that Sears doesn’t notch top marks in any category. In fact, it places at the bottom of our ratings, which are also so-so for Home Depot and Lowe’s, giving all three retailers a middling score across all attributes. Best Buy, however, earns a favorable rating for service, in-store atmosphere, and website usability. (Our survey was conducted before Sears declared bankruptcy.)

More on Major Appliances

But as mediocre as the big box stores may seem, according to our survey, members still report a “very satisfactory” shopping experience. A perfect score is 100, but anything above 80 is considered very satisfactory. And all the large-appliance retailers in our survey earn a rating of 83 or above.

"Overall satisfaction measures more than just the individual attributes in our survey," explains 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—85 percent—are still bought in stores. While online sales have inched up to 15 percent from 11 percent four years ago, consumers still prefer to go to a store to see the appliance they intend to buy. There are a few exceptions. “An overwhelming  majority—85 percent—of Costco’s major-appliance sales are conducted online,” says Lachter. That’s likely because Costco offers a wider selection on its website than in its stores.

Amazon, of course, sells 100 percent of its appliances online but has a small share (1 percent) of the major-appliance market among our members. After these two outliers, online major appliances sales drop to 28 percent for Abt and even less for the other retailers featured in the survey.

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 (checkbook.org). “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 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 kitchen and laundry room, so when one breaks you usually need a replacement right away. A bit over 1 in 5 major appliance purchases made by members were washing machines, followed by almost as many refrigerators, then dishwashers and dryers. Cooking appliances—ranges, cooktops, and wall ovens—together comprise 13 percent of sales and, to complete the kitchen suite, over-the-counter microwaves are 8 percent of sales.

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. That’s too bad, because three-fourths of those who try end up getting a lower price, saving a median of $97 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. Almost as many were given a discount after checking prices at other retailers. Another good tip? Simply ask for a better price, which worked for 14 percent of successful hagglers.

And if you’re a veteran or a senior citizen, let the clerk know, because you have a good chance of getting a lower price. Almost 1 in 5 successful hagglers did.

Even online shoppers can score a discount. Three out of 5 successful online bargain hunters in our survey got a price cut by calling the retailer. Another third used the chat window on the retailer’s website.

Freebies. There's one thing shoppers rarely have to haggle for: perks such as shipping, installation, and haul-away, which are often included in the purchase price. Costco is the most generous retailer when it comes to offering these free extras. Almost 90 percent of major-appliance purchases from Costco are shipped free, which is even more than highly rated Amazon, where 78 percent get free shipping. And 83 percent of Costco buyers get free installation.

Menards offers fewer freebies than any other large appliance retailer.

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 buying an extended warranty, and 19 percent do. Some retailers are pushier than others. For some time now, P.C. Richard & Son has been the most aggressive retailer when it comes to warranties. And its efforts often pay off: 47 percent of its in-store major-appliance buyers pay for extra coverage. Sears also aggressively recommends warranties but with less success; only 25 percent of its in-store customers bite.

Overall, the median price paid for a warranty among our members is $131. Sears customers typically pay the most for extended warranties and Lowe’s customers pay the least. The length of warranties may differ from retailer to retailer, so be sure to factor that into your decision.

Do you really need one? 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 five 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 21 national major-appliance retailers. We also score independents and manufacturer websites as two separate groups, and both get top ratings.

Shopping for a small appliance? See "The Best Places to Buy Small Appliances."

Abt
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 the rare honor of perfect scores across every attribute we measure—price, selection, and service, in-store atmosphere, website usability, and shipping/delivery.

Famous Tate
Reader score: 93
Where it sells: 98 percent in-store; 2 percent online
CR’s take: A newcomer to this list, Famous Tate has about a dozen stores in the Tampa Bay area. It stocks a wide range of large appliances and also sells mattresses. With top-notch scores for service and in-store atmosphere, and favorable ratings for price, selection, and shipping/delivery, it leapfrogged over other retailers into the second slot.

Amazon
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 100 percent online
CR’s take: With fulfillment centers across the country, it’s no wonder this online behemoth gets top marks for shipping/delivery. Its rating for website usability is also top-notch, as  you might expect, tied only with Abt, and prices and selection are favorable.

Costco
Reader score: 91
Where it sells: 15 percent in-store; 85 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 only middling marks for selection and service. Its prices, however, rate high. Members give Costco favorable ratings for in-store atmosphere, website usability, and shipping/delivery.

Nebraska Furniture Mart
Reader score: 91
Where it sells: 93 percent in-store; 7 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 shipping/delivery. Its only middling score is for website usability.

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Appliance stores in Our Ratings.
Current Appliance store Ratings