Electronics Store Buying Guide

If you're buying any electronics product from a tablet to a big-screen TV, your best bet might be shopping online. In recent years, the Consumer Reports readers we've surveyed who shopped online were more satisfied overall than those who shopped at a walk-in store. These annual surveys are big, reflecting tens of thousands of shopping experiences at dozens of retailers. One takeaway from all that research: If you don't like the store where you usually buy electronics, keep looking, because a number of retailers get high marks for everything from selection to customer service.

Ask for a Better Deal

The first rule of negotiation: Do it. Every year, Consumer Reports surveys confirm two things about bargaining. Very few people ask for a better deal, but most people who make the effort succeed.

Roughly 60 percent of consumers who lobby for a better price get one. And shoppers who ask for other benefits are even more successful. Such perks include free installation, shipping, or accessories.

And this may surprise you: Negotiating isn't just for walk-in stores. In our most recent survey, brick-and-mortar shoppers asked for special deals at a much higher rate than consumers shopping online, but the online shoppers who asked were slightly more successful. The online shoppers who negotiated did it by either calling the retailer or using a chat service built into the website.  

If you are going to negotiate, it's helpful to know what the same item is selling for elsewhere. ­

Skip Extended Warranties

It seems like this message is getting through, because over the past few years, Consumer Reports has seen some decline in the percentage of shoppers who pay for extended warranties. The number of people choosing warranties is somewhat higher for smartwatch and computer shoppers than for other categories of electronics.

Why don't we like extended warranties? In general—for everything from cars to refrigerators—extended warranties can have a lot of fine print that lead to claims being rejected, and they may require consumers to pay part of the cost of the repair. When it comes to electronics, another reason is that many electronics products are highly reliable. The chance of your TV set or camera needing a repair in the first few years of ownership is so low that the purchase of an extended warranty is essentially a giveaway to the retailer. (Many savvy shoppers do choose to buy extended warranties on Apple products to get more than the normal 90 days of phone and online support; the company's standard limited warranty runs for a year.)

Expect a Good Shopping Experience

Though we consistently find that shoppers are more satisfied across the board when they shop online,  most consumers report a high level of satisfaction with either type of experience.

There are differences, of course. Online, the selection is better and it's easier to compare prices, while people who shop in traditional stores are happier with the return and exchange process.

But that doesn't mean that all retailers serve their customers equally well. In our surveys, some real differences emerge among both online and in-person shopping experiences, with the best retailers getting high marks for factors ranging from customer service to selection. 

The implication? If you don't like the service you're getting from a retailer, either online or in person, go somewhere else. You deserve a good shopping experience, and our survey shows that you can expect to find one.

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