Best Places to Buy Large Appliances

In CR's exclusive member survey, Costco is a standout for price and Abt is overall top performer

Appliances on display at a Costco store
Costco is a standout for large-appliance prices, though its selection and service are just so-so, CR members tell us.
Photo: Stephen Yang

If you’re seeking the best deal for a large appliance, look no further than the ubiquitous Costco Wholesale.

The membership warehouse club, with more than 550 locations in 45 states and Puerto Rico, is the only retailer to earn a top mark for price among 24 major-appliance retailers judged in a recent Consumer Reports member survey.

Costco is also the only national brand among eight retailers receiving stellar scores for overall satisfaction. Yet, with so-so ratings for selection and customer service, Costco doesn’t get top billing in our survey.

More on Major Appliances

For the 11th survey in a row, that honor goes to Abt, the Chicago-area retailer. Abt, which has one sprawling store in Glenview, Ill., earns superlative marks for almost every factor we measure—selection, service, in-store atmosphere, website usability, and home delivery. For price, it rates above average.

By contrast, three of the four national big-box retailers—Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears—generally get middling ratings for price, service, selection, and other factors. (Lowe’s ranks above average for selection.) Best Buy performs better than the others, earning above-average ratings in every category but price, for which it does so-so.

Consumer Reports’ survey reflects the experience of almost 48,000 CR members, who made more than 76,000 small- and large-appliance purchases from the beginning of 2019 to the middle of 2020, and might not fully reflect the retailer inventory problems that stemmed from the pandemic.

7 Regional Retailers Shine

In our survey, eight retailers are in our highest tier of major appliance stores; they’re joined by independent retailers and websites as a group.

Seven of those eight are large, regional players: Abt in Chicagoland; Famous Tate in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area; Albert Lee Appliance in the Seattle-Tacoma area; Nebraska Furniture Mart, based in Omaha; Warners’ Stellian, primarily serving Minnesota; Orville’s Home Appliances in Western New York; and Spencers TV & Appliance in the Phoenix area.

Many are family-owned and have been around for decades. Spencers is employee-owned.

Many in the top tier have large showrooms and local warehouses that can deliver items to consumers quickly.

“If a consumer says, ‘I want that refrigerator,’ they don’t want to wait for it,” says David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research, based in Cleveland. “The independents have it now, in their warehouse.”

By contrast, he says Home Depot doesn’t hold its own inventory; it sends orders directly to manufacturers, which then send the products to consumers’ homes.

MacGregor says these regional chains have had 30 percent share of the market for many years—and for a reason.

“They provide a superior level of service to their clientele, not just in selling the product, but also the hand-holding and support after the purchase,” he says.  

That shows up in the areas in our survey where the top-rated retailers get our highest ratings:

  • Price: Costco.
  • Selection: Abt, Famous Tate, Albert Lee, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Warners’ Stellian, Orville’s, Spencers.
  • Service: Abt, Famous Tate, Albert Lee, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Orville’s.
  • In-store atmosphere: Abt, Famous Tate, Albert Lee, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Warners’ Stellian, Orville’s.
  • Website usability: Abt.
  • Home delivery: Abt, Famous Tate, Albert Lee.

Yet, as mediocre as most of the big box stores may seem from our survey results, members still report a very satisfactory overall shopping experience. In our ratings, any score above 80 is considered very satisfactory.

And all the large-appliance retailers in our survey earn an overall satisfaction rating of 84 or above, except for Appliance Factory Outlet; members report so-so overall satisfaction with the retailer. It has stores in Colorado, Indiana, and Ohio, and ships nationwide.

“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.”

Haggling to Save

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 only 28 percent of our members haggle when buying a large appliance. That’s too bad, because 72 percent of those who attempt to bargain end up getting a lower price, saving a median of just over $100 on large-appliance purchases.

And haggling success doesn’t depend on being face to face with a salesperson, which is encouraging to know as many people may avoid in-store shopping during the pandemic. In our survey, online shoppers who tried to haggle were as successful at getting a discount as in-store shoppers. 

Our members report trying a number of price-negotiation tactics. The most common techniques used by successful major-appliance hagglers is purchasing several items at once or referring to prices offered by other retailers. Another effective bargaining method: pointing out that you’re a veteran or senior citizen. And don’t be shy: Among successful hagglers who get a better price on their large appliance, 15 percent use no special leverage; they just ask.

It also can’t hurt to ask the retailer to offer services such as delivery, installation, and haul-away free—if they’re not already offered. (Costco distinguishes itself among major retailers by charging no haul-away or recycling fee, and no fee to move an old appliance to a different room.) 

Read our other tips on buying a large appliances.

Best Large-Appliance Retailers

CR members can read on for profiles of the eight 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 24 national major-appliance retailers. We also score independents as a separate group, and they get a top rating. 

Reader score: 94
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 top marks in five of six attributes we measure—selection, service, in-store atmosphere, website usability, and home delivery. Our members give its prices a Very Good score.  

Famous Tate
Reader score: 93
CR’s take: This Tampa Bay-area fixture says that it maintains over $7 million in major-appliance and mattress inventory at all times and that its sales staffers average 10 years’ tenure. Those stats may help explain the store’s stellar marks for selection and service. Famous Tate’s in-store atmosphere and home delivery also gain perfect scores; its prices get a Very Good rating from our members. (We do not have enough responses to create a score on website usability.)

Albert Lee Appliance
Reader score: 92
CR’s take: Albert Lee Appliance, which has been selling major appliances since 1939, earns top ratings in four out of six categories: selection, service, in-store atmosphere, and home delivery. The retailer is judged middling for price. (We don’t have enough responses to generate a website usability score.) The retailer, which maintains six stores in the Washington’s Puget Sound area, reports that it carries more than 90 brands of kitchen, laundry, and outdoor appliances.

Costco Wholesale
Reader score: 92
CR’s take: The membership warehouse club is the only major-appliance retailer in our ratings to earn a stellar score for price. Costco also gets favorable ratings for website usability and home delivery; unlike the big-box stores, it generally doesn’t charge extra for services such as hauling away and recycling an old appliance. In spite of its cavernous, bare-bones warehouse design, Costco earns a Very Good score for in-store atmosphere—perhaps because of its prepandemic practice of offering free food samples to shoppers. The company gets middling scores for service and selection, though; it employs no salespeople on its floors and currently sells only six large-appliance brands—Ancona, GE, LG, NXR, Samsung, and Whirlpool. Major appliance purchases generally can only be made online, though Costco occasionally sells a limited selection of items directly from its warehouses for cash-and-carry pickup.

Nebraska Furniture Mart
Reader score: 92
CR’s take: In addition to its stores in Omaha, the Nebraska Furniture Mart has locations 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 stellar marks for service and in-store atmosphere, and favorable marks for home delivery, price, and website usability.

Warners’ Stellian
Reader score: 91 
CR’s take: Most vendors at the top of CR’s large-appliance retailer ratings sell a lot of other products, too, but family-owned 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 and in-store atmosphere. Home delivery, service, and website usability earn high praise. Prices, though, are rated middling.

Orville’s Home Appliances
Reader score: 90
CR’s take: Family-owned Orville’s has been operating in Western New York since 1965. The retailer says it maintains an inventory of 100,000 major appliances in its 75,000-square-foot warehouse, which may have something to do with its top score for selection in our survey. Service and in-store atmosphere also receive superior ratings. Our members give the retailer commendable scores for price and home delivery. (We don’t have enough responses to generate a website usability score.)

Spencers TV & Appliance
Reader score: 90
CR’s take: In business since 1973, Spencer’s now has 10 showrooms selling major appliances, electronics, and mattresses in the Phoenix area. The employee-owned retailer earns the highest score for selection, and Very Good scores for service, in-store atmosphere, and home delivery. CR survey members give Spencer middling marks for price and website usability.