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 nearly 48,000 CR members who told us about their experiences buying more than 76,000 major and small appliances at 40 chain retailers across the country—as well as from independent retailers and manufacturers' websites.

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 11th survey in a row. And independent retailers and websites, which can range from a single-store mom-and-pop shop to a regional chain, rank among the top major-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. While all three of the warehouse clubs—BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco and Sam's Club—all earn the lowest possible score for small-appliance selection, BJ's and Sam's also crater in their scores for service. In small-appliance ratings, Walmart gets the lowest possible score for service and in-store atmosphere. Canadian Tire scores the same for service.

But even Walmart receives a Very Good score for overall shopping experience. In fact, all but one of the small- and large-appliance retailers in our ratings received high or very high scores for overall satisfaction. The exception is Appliance Factory Outlet; members report so-so overall satisfaction with the retailer, which has stores in Colorado, Indiana and Ohio, but ships nationwide.

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 how CR members shop for appliances, plus tips on making the most of your appliance-shopping dollars.

How People Shop

Most appliance shoppers say they don't attempt to negotiate a better price. Turns out, they’re leaving money on the table; most shoppers who ask for a discount get one. And haggling success apparently doesn't depend on being face-to-face with a salesperson; in our survey, online shoppers who tried to haggle were as successful at getting a discount as in-store shoppers.

Twenty-eight percent of major-appliance shoppers haggle for a better price, and 72 percent of those succeed. And their savings aren’t chump change; our survey finds they save a median of just over $100 per appliance. Only a small proportion (4 percent) of small-appliance shoppers attempt to negotiate a lower price, but those who triumph end up saving a median of around $40 per appliance.

Our members report 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. And don’t be shy: Among successful hagglers who get a better price, 15 percent use no special leverage; they just ask.

When it comes to bargaining for an online purchase, an old-fashioned conversation is the preferred method of communication; about half of all web shoppers—47 percent—phone the retailer to negotiate their appliance’s price. That practice is more common among large-appliance buyers; 59 percent use the phone to discuss an appliance’s price. The second most popular negotiating medium is online chat; 23 percent said they negotiated with a store rep using chat.

It can't hurt to ask the retailer to offer services like delivery, installation and haul-away for free (if they’re not already offered). While 73 percent of small-appliance buyers and 65 percent of large-appliance buyers report getting free delivery without even asking, other services—mainly major-appliance installation and haul-away—are more likely to require a fee. Among major-appliance buyers, just half say they got free installation or haul-away without haggling, and a very small percentage say they haggled to get those services gratis. Haggling to obtain those services for free might be worth the effort; several participants in CR’s Consumer 101 Facebook page mention success in getting at least one of those extras for free with their large-appliance purchase, merely by asking the retailer.

Another way to save is to purchase a floor model. Retailers typically discount these machines; if you have access to a truck, you also can take the machine away yourself immediately, skipping potential delivery delays. Among our survey respondents, 42 percent said they would consider buying a floor model of a major appliance in the future; 27 percent said they’d do the same with a small appliance.

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. The most commonly reported complaint? High prices.

Many shoppers also complained about out-of-stock products, a lack of brand or model choices. (Our survey covered purchases made from the beginning of 2019 to the middle of 2020 and may not fully reflect the retailer inventory issues that stemmed from the pandemic.) Fewer shoppers cited limited display models, lack of sales help, and salespeople who did not seem knowledgeable about the products. 

Warranties and Service Contracts

We found that it's rarely worthwhile to purchase an extended warranty. Yet, two-thirds (68 percent) of major-appliance buyers said retail staffers suggested, without pressure, that they buy one. Among small-appliance buyers, about one-third—31 percent—had the same experience.

And some people got the hard sell. Among buyers of major appliances that did not come with a free extended warranty or service contract, 8 percent said they were strongly urged to buy an extended warranty or service contract; 2 percent of small-appliance purchasers said the same. Our survey finds some retailers were pushier than others. Twenty-one percent of those who bought their major appliances at Sears were strongly urged to buy a warranty; 18 percent of buyers at P.C. Richard & Son, and 17 percent at Bray & Scarff, felt pressured as well.

Pressure or no, 18 percent of major-appliance shoppers end up buying extended warranty or a service contract. Two percent of small-appliance buyers do the same.

If an extended warranty is something you want to pursue, first check the benefits of the credit card you plan to use. Your card may automatically extend your purchase's warranty so you don’t need to buy additional protection. If you still want to take advantage of a retailer's warranty, keep in mind that the period of coverage can differ from retailer to retailer. The cost of the warranty may vary accordingly.

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