Appliance Store Buying Guide

If you need to replace an appliance, you can’t go wrong by shopping at Abt or Amazon. Both retailers get high marks from more than 46,000 Consumer Reports’ members who told us about their experiences buying more than 68,000 major and small appliances at 30 chain retailers across the country, as well as from independent retailers and from manufacturers. And we found that the biggest stores weren’t necessarily the best.

Abt, for example, has only one store, in suburban Chicago, but ships across the country. It topped our ratings of major-appliance retailers for the ninth year in a row. Not to be outdone, it was the 13th year that Amazon was among the top small-appliance sellers. Our appliance store ratings include regional, warehouse, big-box, department store, independent, and online retailers and sales direct from manufacturers’ websites.

Plugged In—Where People Shop

While most appliance purchases are still made in walk-in stores, online purchases are growing. Forty-four percent of small-appliance purchases are now made online, a significant increase over four years ago, when 25 percent of small appliances were bought online. For major appliances the increase was more modest: Fifteen percent of major appliances are bought online, up from 11 percent four years ago.

Furthermore, two-thirds of online small-appliance purchases were made at Lowe’s tops large-appliance sales, accounting for more than a quarter of all major-appliance purchases. One in 5 major appliances is purchased at Home Depot. Best Buy and Sears account for about 1 in 10 sales each.

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 do things such as research their product by checking prices and reading reviews. About 70 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.

Alternatively, 31 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. Over 40 percent of shoppers who buy a major appliance at 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. By not trying, they are leaving money on the table because most shoppers who try do end up getting a lower price. Online shoppers who tried to haggle were almost 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 $97. Only a small proportion (4 percent) of small-appliance shoppers attempted to negotiate a lower price, and those who triumphed ended up saving a median of $39.

The most common tactic used by successful major-appliance hagglers is purchasing several items at once. Checking out prices offered by other retailers’ or on price comparison websites is also effective. And if you’re a veteran or a senior citizen, you should let retailers know, because you have a fairly good chance of getting a better deal. 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

One out of every 5 major-appliance shoppers buys an extended warranty or a service contract, but only 3 percent of small-appliance buyers do the same. Once again our survey shows that P.C. Richard & Son was the pushiest retailer when it comes to pressuring shoppers into buying an extended warranty to cover a major appliance. And its aggressiveness appears to pay off because 47 percent of in-store shoppers who purchased a major appliance there bought extra coverage. That’s considerably higher than the rate of most other retailers in the survey. Sears was also found to be pushier than most other retailers.

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. Overall, the median price paid for a major-appliance extended warranty or service contract in our survey is $131. Sears customers typically pay more for extended warranties and service contracts on refrigerators and washing machines than do shoppers at Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe’s.

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