A brand-new washing machine appliance still in packaging being rolled on a dolly by a person.

If you’re waiting for Black Friday to score a deal on a whisper-quiet dishwasher, finally step up to a pro-style range, or get that French-door fridge you've been eyeing, you might need to revise your strategy a bit.

The appliance shortage that began during the pandemic is still rippling through retailers in the U.S., so the eye-popping deals on major appliances we’ve come to expect during this annual rite of thrift is likely to be scarce. As we hurtle toward end-of-year holiday sales still in the grip of COVID-19, the laws of supply and demand are playing the role of Scrooge.

If you want, skip to CR's insider tips for buying an appliance, but here’s what’s happening in the market right now. 

Lower Discounts, and Fewer of Them

Back in the spring, as people began sheltering in place, Americans took a closer look around their kitchens and laundry rooms and started ordering replacements and upgrades for their appliances. With that increased demand, manufacturers haven't been giving retailers the usual rebates to help them move merchandise. And that means the Best Buys and Lowe's of the world can’t pass along the cost cuts to you in the form of deep holiday discounts.  

More on Appliances

“I don’t think you’ll see discounts applied as broadly as in the past,” says David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research, based in Cleveland. “There’s no reason to be promotional, because of high demand.”

And even when a store offers a discount, the actual savings won’t be as great, 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 vs. last year.”

Then there’s the issue of supply—shortages, specifically, as manufacturers have struggled to recover from factory closings and production changes to implement COVID-19 safety protocols to protect workers.

“The Asian economies were hit in particular by the lockdown, so there was a period of six to eight weeks when nobody in Asia was making steel,” says Tom Derry, CEO of the Institute for Supply Management, an industry group in Tempe, Ariz. “All of that adds up to months of backlog.” 

Some Appliances Will Be Hard to Get

That means no matter how much you’re willing to spend, you may or may not be able to get your hands on the appliance of your dreams.

“Backorders are still very high,” says Ken Miele, chief executive officer of Appliance Dealers Cooperative, which is based in New Jersey and buys appliances from manufacturers to distribute to around 200 independent retailers, mainly in the East. The situation, he says, “may not be better until April 2021.”

For instance, among major online and walk-in appliance retailers, including Best Buy, Home Depot, and Sears, almost a third of the standard-sized 24-inch dishwashers are out of stock, compared with about a fifth at the beginning of the year, according to Gap Intelligence, a market-research company. Thirty-seven percent of refrigerators of all types are unavailable on retailers’ websites right now, about double the 19 percent seen in January.

A chorus of followers on our Consumer 101 Facebook page have reported waiting months for appliances, because deliveries got pushed back multiple times. Cindy Wilmore of Columbia, Tenn., is just one example. She ordered a dishwasher in mid-June that isn’t expected until right before Thanksgiving. “Never in a million years did we think it would take this long to replace appliances,” she says.


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

6 Tips for Buying an Appliance Right Now

That doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck if your dishwasher quits right now—though if you just want to upgrade, consider waiting until next spring. That's when the experts we interviewed expect that the supply should return to normal. But if you can’t wait—or just don’t want to—here’s our insider advice for getting an appliance now at the best possible price, pronto.

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.”

Independents may offer other perks as well. Marla Collins of Midlothian, Va., a fan of CR’s Consumer 101 Facebook group, says her local appliance dealer gave her a loaner fridge while she waited for her new Whirlpool last summer. “The loaner helped tremendously,” she says.

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

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 more 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. We found a GE Spacemaker washer-dryer combination discounted by 28 percent. It was in “satisfactory” condition, which Best Buy defines 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. When 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 cancellations policy first). And be sure you can handle multiple purchases on your credit card; a refund may not be instant.

6. Always haggle. Just because appliances may be harder to come by shouldn’t stop you from bargaining for a better price. When we surveyed 25,029 Consumer Reports members about the 33,947 large-appliance purchases they made between January 2019 and the spring of 2020—including a couple of months during the pandemic—only 28 percent said they haggled for a lower price. But 72 percent of those who did haggle succeeded in getting a lower price. The median savings was $113.

When we recently 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, 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. But 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.”