Best Places to Buy Small Appliances

Consumer Reports members dish on their shopping experiences

Illustration of small appliances

If you’re looking for a great experience when buying a small appliance this Black Friday, you have a shopping cart of options.

Nine small-appliance retailers—including an online-only giant, a website tied to a TV shopping network, a membership warehouse, and a store owned by the federal government—have earned top overall satisfaction marks in a recent Consumer Reports member survey.

Exchange, the vast online and walk-in mass merchandiser that the Department of Defense runs worldwide for military and other government workers and retirees, shares the top spot in CR’s ratings with Abt, a Chicago-area walk-in and online retailer that sells nationwide. This is Exchange’s first time at the top of CR’s ratings.

Other small-appliance vendors with stellar overall satisfaction ratings include specialty retailers Bed Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table, and Williams-Sonoma; membership warehouse Costco Wholesale; QVC.com, an offshoot of the television shopping network of the same name; online behemoth Amazon; and Kohl’s, the department store.

More on Small Appliances

(Sur La Table, which was purchased out of bankruptcy in August by a private equity-funded company, maintains its online business and is expected to keep half of its 121 stores open after 2020.)

In all, Consumer Reports members have rated 24 retailers. Our results also include as separate categories small-appliance manufacturers’ websites, and independent retailers/websites.

CR’s 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 may not fully reflect the retailer inventory problems that stemmed from the pandemic.

Membership Clubs Do Well on Pricing

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.

The three national warehouse clubs—BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, and Sam’s Club—all earn the lowest mark for selection. Sam’s and BJ’s also rate lowest for service, along with Canadian Tire and Walmart. But all three warehouse clubs receive Very Good ratings for price. Here are more highlights:

  • Price: No small-appliance retailer gets our top rating, but nine receive favorable marks: Abt, Exchange, Costco, QVC.com, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, JCPenney, and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
  • Selection: Abt and Amazon earn our top rating.
  • Service: Abt and Williams-Sonoma excel.
  • In-store atmosphere: Williams-Sonoma alone gets the highest mark.
  • Website usability: Abt receives our top rating.

In spite of low or middling scores for individual attributes, even the retailers at the bottom of our ratings 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 five 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.”

As for independent retailers and manufacturers’ websites, they each get Very Good overall satisfaction ratings as collective groups. Manufacturer websites get commendable ratings for selection and middling ratings for other attributes. Independent retailers as a group do well for service and in-store atmosphere; their prices, selections, and websites are just so-so.

How We Shop, How We Haggle

Small-appliance consumers are comfortable buying what they want or need online. More than half (52 percent) of recent small-appliance buys were made online, and only 8 percent of buyers bothered going into a walk-in store to check out the products before buying online. Seventy percent of buyers checked out user reviews and/or ratings, and 61 percent compared the price charged for the product by various retailers. Thirty-seven percent visited the manufacturer’s website.

Small-appliance buyers sometimes miss out on improving the prices they pay because they typically don’t haggle. We found that only 4 percent tried to make a deal by haggling, compared with 28 percent of large-appliance buyers who haggled. And small-appliance buyers who haggled were more likely to get a better deal; they succeeded 79 percent of the time, compared with 72 percent for large-appliance buyers. 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—28 percent—simply ask for it. And a healthy percentage of successful online hagglers either use online chat on a retailers website (23 percent) or do it over the phone (25 percent). That’s encouraging to know, because many people may avoid in-store shopping during the pandemic.

The Best Small-Appliance Retailers

Below, CR members can read ratings and reviews of the nine 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.”

Abt
Reader score: 94
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.

Exchange
Reader score: 94
CR’s take: Exchange, short for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, operates a website plus more than 4,000 facilities in U.S. military commands in 32 countries, 50 states, four U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. It’s open to 38 million active-duty military; retirees; National Guard members; reservists; Purple Heart recipients; and other eligible retired customers in the U.S. military and selected other government agencies. It’s also available online to honorably discharged veterans. Exchange sells a wide range of merchandise, all tax-free and with what it calls “military-exclusive” pricing. CR members rate it Excellent for overall satisfaction, Very Good for price, and middling for selection. (CR did not collect enough responses for judgments of other features.)

Sur La Table
Reader score: 93
CR’s take: Sur La Table, which was purchased out of bankruptcy in August by a private equity-funded company, maintains its online business and is expected to keep half of its 121 stores open after 2020. 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. (During the pandemic, those classes can only be accessed online.) Our members also give it a Very Good rating for selection and service, but they find price just so-so.

Williams-Sonoma
Reader score: 93
CR’s take: Founded in California wine country, Williams-Sonoma is the only retailer in CR’s small-appliance store ratings to get an Excellent rating for in-store atmosphere; it also excels in service. The high-end retailer sells everything for avid cooks and those who like to entertain. Products include tableware, glassware, silverware, and small appliances from upscale brands. The retailer’s selection and website usability are well-regarded. Price, though, is middling.

Costco Wholesale
Reader score: 92
CR’s take: 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 by our members. Costco also employs no salespeople on its floor, which could account for its subpar rating for service. But the warehouse club earns favorable ratings for price, website usability, and in-store atmosphere—perhaps because of the free food samples staffers offer shoppers. (That practice has been suspended during the pandemic.)

QVC.com
Reader score: 91
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 a so-so mark for selection.

Amazon.com
Reader score: 90
CR’s take: Our members are happy with the wide variety of Amazon’s products and brands, which earns the Seattle-based behemoth a top mark for selection. It also receives a commendable rating for website usability. But members give it middling marks for price and service.

Bed Bath & Beyond
Reader score: 90
CR’s take: The specialty retailer, founded in New Jersey in 1971, sells a variety of domestic products and home furnishings online and in about 1,500 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Our members give it a Very Good rating for selection. In other characteristics—price, service, in-store atmosphere, and website usability—it receives moderate ratings.

Kohl's
Reader score: 90
CR’s take: Based in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Kohl’s is the largest department store chain in the U.S. In addition to its website, it operates walk-in stores in every state except Hawaii. Its small-appliance prices rate Very Good, our members say. Selection, in-store atmosphere, and web usability, however, are middling. Our survey finds its service is subpar.