How to Get a Deal During an Appliance Shortage

With some kitchen and laundry appliances in short supply, getting what you want at the right price isn’t so easy. CR can help.

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During this season of shortages, can you still get a deal on a large appliance? Are there holiday bargains this year on a reliable fridge to hold your holiday fare or a capable washer-dryer set for houseguests’ loads?

Consumer Reports is finding plenty of bargains on highly rated large appliances. But to be sure, shopping is more of a challenge this season. Supply-chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic continue to affect the flow of large appliances to warehouses and showrooms, as they have all year long. Increased consumer demand hasn’t let up either, which means makers don’t need to give retailers the usual seasonal rebates to help them move merchandise. That means merchants aren’t passing along the typical seasonal discounts to you.

“There’s no reason to be promotional, because of high demand,” says David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research, based in Cleveland.

But it is still possible to get a bargain, if you are alert and flexible—and willing to pounce.

You can skip down to CR’s insider tips for buying an appliance right now, or read below to find out more about what’s happening now in the market.

Where and When to Find the Discounts

Industry analysts from Gap Intelligence, a San Diego-based market research company, have been studying the current large appliance market. Here are a few of their observations:

• Supplies are short among major retailers. At Lowe’s, 49 percent of dishwashers, 47 percent of ranges, 46 percent of refrigerators and 40 percent of laundry machines were out of stock in late October and early November, a Gap Intelligence study shows.

"While consumers may see some out-of-stocks, we carry a large selection of brands to meet demand and can provide alternate options to consumers looking to replace appliances quickly," says Amy Allison, a Lowe’s spokesperson. Lowe’s ordered inventory earlier than in years past, she says, and holds items in its coastal warehouses before distributing them across the country.

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Lowe’s is not alone, though: 22 percent of Best Buy’s refrigerators also were out of stock. At Home Depot, 18 percent of ranges were not available.

• Fridge deals, relatively paltry, could shrink more in December. Promotional discounts on refrigerators are averaging around 12 percent, says Jordan Carter, a Gap analyst who follows the refrigerator market. In contrast, discounts averaged 28 percent at their peak in 2019, and 14 percent last year.

Unfortunately, shoppers who wait for bargains in December may be disappointed. "Due to consistently lower discounts this year when compared to previous years, December 2021 may see average promotions fall to 10 percent or less," Carter says.

• Higher-end washers and dryers offer bigger discounts. The average promotion for lower-end laundry machines—$649 and under—has been 10 percent, says Andrew Chow, a Gap Intelligence laundry analyst. For units priced from $650 to $900, the discounts have averaged 12 percent. It’s only when a unit is priced at $1,650 or more than consumers are likely to see price drops of 22 to 23 percent, Chow notes.

• Best Buy is offering the most "instant savings" deals on ranges. Among major appliance retailers, Best Buy has discounted 128 machines with deals at the point of purchase, requiring no mail-in rebate. You’ll most likely find those savings when you buy a bundle—several products at once, says Mark Davis, a Gap Intelligence analyst who covers the range market.

Even when a store offers a discount, though, the actual savings aren’t as great as they may seem, says Seth Basham, managing director at Wedbush Securities, based in Los Angeles, and an industry analyst who covers appliance retailers Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. “Discounts may appear similar,” he says, “but base pricing or other factors will likely make the products more expensive compared with last year."

7 Tips for Buying an Appliance Right Now

Here’s our insider advice for getting an appliance pronto, at the best possible price.

1. Try an independent retailer. Local independent retailers can offer selections comparable to those of big-box stores, thanks to their membership in cooperative buying groups. “Buying groups put independents on an equal footing with Home Depot or Lowe’s,” MacGregor says. “They also provide a superior level of service to their clientele, not just in selling the product but also in the hand-holding and support after the purchase.”

And if you see lower prices at big-box stores, it’s worth asking whether an independent will match them.

2. Use online tools to research. Take advantage of a retailer’s online shopping filters to narrow your appliance search to what’s in stock or in stores now. If you want to see an appliance in person, some retailers, like Lowe’s, will tell you the nearest store that has the model you’re considering. Use the online chat if it’s available, too. We tried Home Depot’s, and a rep spent half an hour helping us find an in-stock LG French-door fridge.

Consult Consumer Reports for prices and product availability from the retailers in our shopping program. The information is updated regularly, but you should always check the retailer for real-time pricing and stock availability.

3. Prioritize your must-haves. When inventory is limited, it helps to be flexible with features. For instance, Nish Suvarnakar, a market analyst for major appliances at CR, recommends choosing basic stainless steel instead of a specialty finish, because it’s a popular finish that’s often manufactured in larger batches.

Consult our appliance buying guides to learn about the features on different appliances, and use the Compare option in our ratings to see the features on specific models and our test results side by side.

4. Consider a model with cosmetic flaws. You may be able to get a floor model or an appliance with a few dents or scratches right away and at a discounted price. Best Buy, for one, has a search filter for discounted “open box” appliances on its website, in conditions ranging from excellent to fair, and priced accordingly. (Best Buy defines "satisfactory,” for instance, as having possible minor to moderate signs of use that wouldn’t have an impact on performance.) Open box buys may be missing nonessential parts.

5. Order—and keep browsing. If you see something you want online, buy it! Then keep looking. If you find a better or quicker deal, go back and cancel the first order. The big-box stores generally allow order cancellations and a refund up until the appliance is delivered. (Check the cancellation policy first.) And be sure you can handle multiple purchases on your credit card; a refund might not be instant.

6. Always haggle. Appliances may be harder to come by, but that shouldn’t stop you from bargaining for a better price. When we surveyed about 20,000 Consumer Reports members about the large-appliance purchases they made from the beginning of 2020 through the end of May 2021, only 23 percent said they’d haggled for a lower price. But two-thirds of those who did haggle succeeded in getting a lower price. The median savings was $119.

For instance, when we called Best Buy about an LG bottom-freezer fridge, we were able to get the $25 haul-away fee dropped. John Hinnenkamp, who lives outside of Omaha, Neb., got even better results. After waiting for weeks for a gray GE washer and dryer set from Nebraska Furniture Mart, he settled for a white one instead. When he asked the retailer to make up for his time and trouble, the store discounted $120 from his purchase and waived the haul-away fee. He also got a $100 store credit. “Why was I compensated? That’s simple,” Hinnenkamp says. “I called them and complained. The squeaky wheel can get the grease.”

7. Use your own vehicle. With access to a truck, you can cut the wait for delivery by picking up your appliance yourself. Or try what Scott Cook of Cumberland, R.I., did: Have it delivered to a nearby location that offers a better delivery date. When Home Depot gave him a three-month lead time to deliver a freezer, he entered his sister’s address in Massachusetts, 15 minutes away, into the online order. That ended up shaving a month off the delivery date. At his sister’s house, Cook had the delivery crew put the freezer box directly into his truck, and his wife and father helped him unload it at home.

Tobie Stanger

I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger