With Inventories Still Low, Here's How to Shop for a Large Appliance

CR offers expert tips and tactics to help you get the model you want

A customer views washing machines displayed for sale at an Appliance store Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

If you plan to buy or upgrade a large appliance now, the chances of getting what you want—and getting it soon—are a bit better than they were a few months ago. But patience is still the watchword. And don’t get your hopes up about lots of big bargains during seasonal sales.

Inventory backups—and the delivery delays they cause—are easing somewhat, experts tell us. But they’re still historically high.

"It’s not uncommon to wait two to three weeks, and with some products four to six weeks," says David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research in Cleveland. Long as that seems, it’s a slight improvement over the four-to-eight-week period MacGregor reported to Consumer Reports last fall.

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Delays on some higher-end items continue to be up to four months, says the senior acquisition agent who buys large appliances for CR’s tests.

Back-orders have dropped to 125,000 units from 350,000, reports Ken Miele, CEO of the Appliance Dealers Cooperative in Monroe, N.J., which supplies large appliances to more than 200 independent appliance dealers. Still, that’s a far cry from a pre-pandemic back-order level of 2,000 to 4,000 machines. “We are now looking to the end of the year to relieve the back-orders,” Miele adds. “The new normal is fewer choices.”

Read on for the latest on appliance supply-chain issues, how to determine your best course of action, and tips for appliance shopping now.

Why the Holdup?

Two years into the pandemic, Americans are still clamoring to replace large appliances. Though mortgage interest rates are rising, pent-up home-buying demand coupled with strong remodeling and building activity will continue to fuel an appetite for new large appliances, experts say.

But a variety of forces, some related to COVID-19 and some decades old, have put kinks in the country’s supply chain and made it hard for appliance makers to meet that boom. Most notably, the computer chips or circuits in new appliance control boards aren’t being made fast enough. Bottlenecks at West Coast ports have left cargo ships carrying foreign-made appliances and parts languishing at sea. And once those goods are unloaded, there aren’t enough truckers or shipping containers in the right places to carry them around the country, industry observers say.

“Manufacturers are building near-complete units that are then set aside while they wait for the backlogged part,” MacGregor says.

Last fall the Port of Los Angeles moved to around-the-clock hours to help ease the congestion. MacGregor says that the change has been moderately helpful for 2022 inventories. The situation should improve as 2022 unfolds, he adds.

Find out which brand tops the chart in CR’s updated Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings.

What About Appliance Repairs?

At Repair Clinic, an online parts retailer that also matches consumers with repair pros, the wait for service is currently seven to 10 days, according to Chris Zeisler, the website’s technical services supervisor. That hasn’t changed much since last spring.

And if you can get a technician to your home to diagnose your appliance, you may find you have another wait, for parts—if they’re available. “The parts that are getting caught up now in the supply chain are the control boards, because of the chip shortage,” Zeisler says.

Some owners of very expensive refrigerators are waiting six to eight months for parts—usually those circuit boards, Zeisler reports; more complex machines can have more than one of them. In the interim, he says, those consumers are “probably using the garage or basement fridge, or getting something in the used market.”

The upshot: You might have to compromise by finding a temporary replacement, accepting generic parts, or deciding to buy a new appliance. (Find out which appliance repairs you can do on your own and which require a pro.)

What You Can Do

What does this mean for Presidents Day sales? The bargains on appliances are likely to range around 15 percent, says Jordan Carter, an analyst covering large appliances for Gap Intelligence, a market-research company. That’s not as high as they were pre-pandemic but an improvement over last year, she says.

“There are trends suggesting that the 2022 Presidents Day sales period will offer better and more discounts than the same period in 2021,” Carter says.

Keep your eyes on large appliances by the Korean-based manufacturers Samsung and LG, Carter says, because you’re likely to find more and higher discounts on their large appliances than what’s available from other manufacturers. (Typically, manufacturers drive seasonal sales by providing retailers with subsidies to promote and discount their products.) Indeed, we found a highly rated 33-inch LG refrigerator on sale at several retailers at around $1,500, a discount of 29 percent.

Even without a big price break, you can always try negotiating other aspects of your purchase, such as fees for delivery, installation and disposal, and associated parts like hoses and electric cords. “Some of our independents are doing that,” Miele says. “Our guys want the business, so they’re going to make sure the customers are happy.”

Here’s a breakdown of simple tactics, whether you need a replacement right away or you can make do for a bit. In either case, check out our third annual Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings for brands to focus on. And consider the advice we compiled late last year on shopping for an appliance during a shortage, which still applies.

If You Need a Replacement Now

Head to an independent dealer first. Independents often can match prices at big-box stores and have a bead on supply that’s at least as good as what the major chains have. And because they typically don’t depend on third-party delivery services, they can often be more exact on when you’ll get your machine. They also can offer perks such as in-house service or a loaner while you wait for your new appliance.

Hone your search on big-box-store websites. If you want to shop at a major chain, take advantage of any search tools that let you quickly find what’s in stock locally and available for delivery now.

Consider substitutions. When we recently researched options for Bosch dishwashers—many of which do well in CR’s tests—we found that a popular stainless steel model couldn’t be delivered for three weeks from the online retailer Appliance Connection. But a similar model, for $100 more, was ready to be shipped right away.

If You Can Wait

Get on an independent dealer’s waiting list. “We’re getting a good supply of product,” Miele says. “We’re just filling orders more slowly than before.”

Sign up for alerts from big-box stores. Some chains, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, let you set up notifications that will be sent when your favored model arrives.

Don’t expect prices to drop anytime soon. The experts we interviewed all said they expected the supply-and-demand situation to last through the year, which will affect pricing. “Why promote something you are struggling to deliver?” MacGregor asks.

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