Best Places to Buy Small Appliances

Consumer Reports members dish on their shopping experiences

Illustration of small appliances

Sur La Table, the high-end kitchenware seller, is the top-rated small-appliance retailer in the U.S., according to a just-released Consumer Reports survey. In its first time on CR’s small-appliance retailers ratings list, the Seattle-based retailer, which also sponsors on-premises cooking classes, earns a stellar overall satisfaction score of 95 and top marks for service and in-store atmosphere.

But if you’re focusing on a small-appliance bargain, you may want to look elsewhere. CR finds only four names among its ratings of 24 retailers that offer a combination of favorable pricing and great overall satisfaction: Abt, a Chicagoland appliance and electronics megastore that also sells online; Amazon; Costco Wholesale; and QVC.com. 

Five other retailers also get favorable marks for pricing: Exchange, HSN.com, Kohl’s, Meijer, and Sam’s Club. By contrast, prices at Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma, another top-rated retailer, are just so-so. 

Those are among the nuggets we discovered when we asked 48,000 of CR’s members about their experiences buying 72,000 small and large appliances online and in stores from January 2018 through June 2019.

More on Small Appliances

We asked Consumer Reports members about their overall satisfaction with a retailer as well as their views on price, selection, service, in-store atmosphere, and website usability. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Price: No small-appliance retailer gets our top rating, but nine receive favorable marks.
  • Selection: Only Abt gets our top rating.
  • Service: Sur La Table and Abt excel.
  • In-store atmosphere: Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma get highest marks.
  • Website usability: Abt and Amazon receive our top rating.

Even though 1 in 10 small appliances were purchased at Walmart, that retailer was near the bottom of the ratings for the 14th year in a row. And it’s the only small-appliance retailer to get our worst rating for selection, service, and in-store atmosphere, something to keep in mind if you shop there.


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

Sears, which emerged from bankruptcy in February but whose store count continues to shrink, joins Walmart at the bottom of our ratings. Our members were particularly critical of Sears’ in-store atmosphere.

But even those retailers provided an overall satisfying shopping experience, our members told us.

“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.”

How We Shop, How We Haggle

Unlike large-appliance purchasers, small-appliance consumers are increasingly comfortable buying what they want or need online. Nearly half (47 percent) of our members’ recent small-appliance buys were online, compared with 25 percent just five years ago. Half or more of all purchases of air purifiers, pressure cookers, humidifiers, air fryers, food processor/choppers, and blenders were made online.

And for the most part, small-appliance purchasers don’t feel the need to see, touch, or measure the models they’re considering before buying online. Only 10 percent of buyers bothered going into a walk-in store before buying online—a practice nicknamed “showrooming.” About 1 in 5 online shoppers who bought their products on the websites of Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Williams-Sonoma went to see them in a store first. And almost as many online customers of Macy’s and Kohl’s did the same.

Don't assume you can’t get a better deal. Small-appliance buyers sometimes miss out on improving the prices they pay because they typically don’t haggle. We found only 4 percent tried to make a deal by haggling, compared with 28 percent of large-appliance buyers who haggled. But the two groups were equally successful, cadging a better deal 73 percent of the time. And small-appliance buyers who haggled saved a median of $40 per purchase—not just pocket change.

How did they do it? More than a quarter check out other retailers’ websites and ask for a price match. One in 5 successful hagglers use a smartphone or tablet to search for better prices while in a store. The same percentage get a deal simply by asking for it. Almost as many check for bargains at price comparison websites.

The Best Small-Appliance Retailers

Below, CR members can read ratings and reviews of the six top-rated small-appliance retailers in our survey. To see how other sellers fare in our appliance store ratings, see our full list of 24 national small-appliance retailers.

Looking for a major appliance? Read “Best Places to Buy Large Appliances.”

“Independent stores and manufacturers who sell directly to consumers both do well in our ratings for overall owner satisfaction,” says Simon Slater, associate director of Consumer Reports’ survey research group. “However, neither is rated highly for their prices or selection.” 

Sur La Table
Reader score: 95
Where it sells: 64 percent in-store, 36 percent online
CR’s take: The high-end specialty retailer sells kitchenware, cookbooks, and gourmet ingredients in addition to small kitchen appliances. Its storefronts, typically located in upscale malls, often offer on-site cooking classes for adults and kids—perhaps one reason the Seattle-based retailer rates tops for in-store atmosphere. Our members also give it a superior mark for service, and a commendable score for web usability. But they find prices and selection just so-so.

Abt
Reader score: 93
Where it sells: 48 percent in-store, 52 percent online
CR’s take: Based in a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Glenview, Ill., outside Chicago, Abt ships nationally. In addition to large and small appliances, it sells electronics, office supplies, power tools, fitness gear, furniture, and mattresses. In our survey, members give Abt top marks for service, selection, and web usability. They also like its prices.

Williams-Sonoma
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 61 percent in-store, 39 percent online
CR’s take: This high-end retailer, which was founded in California wine country, sells everything for avid cooks and those who like to entertain. Products include tableware, glassware, silverware, and small appliances from upscale brands. It sells a limited number of top-tier brands, and that’s probably why it earns only a middling rating for price and selection from our members. But its well-appointed stores earn a top mark for in-store atmosphere. Service and website usability are also well-regarded.

Costco Wholesale
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 84 percent in-store, 16 percent online
CR’s take: You have to be a member to shop at a Costco warehouse. Since it was founded as Price Club in 1976, Costco has developed a huge membership base. It uses this buying power to offer a highly curated number of products to its members, including appliances, groceries, furniture, and electronics. Because it carries fewer models than other stores, it’s not surprising that Costco gets dinged for selection from our members. It also gets a subpar rating for service and a mediocre score for website usability. But it earns favorable ratings for prices and in-store atmosphere—perhaps because of the free food samples staffers regularly offer shoppers.

QVC.com
Reader score: 92
Where it sells: 99 percent online
CR’s take: QVC began as a shopping channel on cable TV and, in addition, now has a robust shopping website. Small-appliance sales are just part of its wide array of products, which include celebrity fashions and beauty products. Our members give it favorable ratings for price, service, and website usability but less-than-favorable marks for selection.

Amazon
Reader score: 91
Where it sells: 100 percent online
CR’s take: Not surprisingly, the online-only seller earns our best rating for website usability. Our members are happy with the wide variety of Amazon’s products and brands, which earns the Seattle-based behemoth a very good mark for selection. It also receives a high rating for prices. But members find its service middling.