Appliance Store Buying Guide

If you need to replace a large or small appliance, you can’t go wrong by shopping at Abt or Costco Wholesale. Both retailers get high marks from more than 48,000 Consumer Reports’ members who told us about their experiences buying more than 72,000 major and small appliances at 36 chain retailers across the country, as well as from independent retailers.

Our appliance store ratings include regional, warehouse, big-box, department store, independent, and online retailers as well as sales direct from manufacturers’ websites. Among our findings: The biggest stores aren’t necessarily the best.

Abt, for example, has only one big walk-in warehouse, in suburban Chicago, but it ships across the country. It heads our ratings of major-appliance retailers for the 10th year in a row. A newcomer in our ratings, Sur la Table, serves consumers online and in relatively small-footprint stores nationwide; it’s rated tops among small-appliance retailers. 

None of the big-box appliance stores with hundreds of locations—Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears—rate in the highest tier for either small or large appliances. Web behemoth Amazon is among the top-rated retailers for small appliances, though. And in our ratings, certain retailers earned only Poor or Fair scores for some individual attributes. Among small-appliance retailers, for instance, Walmart gets the lowest possible score for selection, service, and in-store atmosphere.

But even Walmart receives a Very Good score for overall shopping experience. In fact, all small- and large-appliance retailers in our ratings received high or very high scores for overall satisfaction. Indeed, 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. So while a retailer may not fare well on certain attributes, members may still report a satisfactory shopping experience overall.

Here’s some perspective from our survey about where and how CR members shop for appliances, plus tips on making the most of your appliance-shopping dollars.

Where People Shop

While most appliance purchases are still made at walk-in stores, online purchases are growing. Nearly half (47 percent) of our members’ recent small-appliance buys were online, compared with 25 percent just five years ago. For major appliances, the increase was more modest: Eighteen percent of major appliances are bought online, up from 11 percent five years ago.

How People Shop

While the majority of purchases are still made in physical stores, around 4 out of 5 major- and small-appliance shoppers use the internet to research their product by doing things such as checking prices and reading reviews. Over 80 percent of small- and major-appliance shoppers who use the internet while shopping go to a retailer’s website before making a purchase at its store or website.

Showrooming
Alternatively, 36 percent of shoppers who buy a major appliance online and 10 percent of online small-appliance shoppers check out products at a walk-in store first, a practice called showrooming. Nearly half (46 percent) of shoppers who buy a major appliance at Costco.com and more than 30 percent of those who buy a major appliance from the websites of Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe’s go to a physical showroom first. For small appliances, shoppers buying online at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and Williams-Sonoma are the most likely to go to a store beforehand.

It Pays to Haggle

Most appliance shoppers say they don’t attempt to negotiate a better price. They’re leaving money on the table; most shoppers who ask for a discount get a lower price. Online shoppers who tried to haggle were as successful at getting a discount as in-store shoppers.

Nearly 30 percent of major-appliance shoppers haggled for a better price, and those who succeeded ended up saving a median of $100. Only a small proportion (4 percent) of small-appliance shoppers attempted to negotiate a lower price, but those who triumphed ended up saving a median of $40.

Our members reported trying a number of price-negotiation tactics. The most common techniques used by successful major-appliance hagglers is purchasing several items at once or referring to prices offered by other retailers. Another effective bargaining method: pointing out that you’re a veteran or senior citizen. Don’t be shy: Almost 15 percent of successful hagglers who got a better price just asked for one.

Shopping Gripes
We asked members to name a retailer where they shopped but did not purchase what they were looking for. They told us about the gripes they have with that retailer, and the most commonly reported complaint is high prices. Many shoppers also complained about out-of-stock products, a lack of brand or model choices, and limited display models. Fewer shoppers cited lack of sales help, and salespeople who did not seem knowledgeable about the products.

Warranties and Service Contracts

Eighteen percent of major-appliance shoppers buy an extended warranty or a service contract, but only 3 percent of small-appliance buyers do the same. Our survey finds that Bray & Scarff and P.C. Richard & Son are the pushiest retailers when it comes to pressuring shoppers into buying an extended warranty to cover a major appliance. Their salespeople’s aggressiveness appears to pay off; 39 percent of P.C. Richard’s in-store major-appliance buyers pay for extra coverage, as do 37 percent of Bray & Scarff patrons. That’s considerably higher than the rate of most other retailers in the survey. Among small-appliance retailers, P.C. Richard is the pushiest, our survey shows.

Keep in mind that if you are considering buying an extended warranty, the period of coverage can differ from retailer to retailer, so the cost of the warranty may vary. That said, Consumer Reports has found that it’s rarely worthwhile to purchase an extended warranty.

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