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Smart strategies for buying major appliances online

Consumer Reports News: June 08, 2012 02:53 PM

Consumers have been purchasing toasters, blenders, and other small appliances online for years. But more and more, they're using the internet for major appliances as well. In 2011, for example, nearly 10 percent of refrigerator sales happened online, up from barely a blip a decade earlier, according to Ipsos, a market-research company. Going the e-commerce route could pay off for you, if you follow these best practices.

Factor in the shipping and sales tax. Online prices can be temptingly low, but you of course need to pay for shipping too, which could add 10 to 15 percent to the total cost. Then there's sales tax. Once upon a time, consumers who shopped at Amazon and other e-commerce sites might not have been hit with this charge. But laws have gotten tougher, such that residents in many states are now charged sales tax. As a result, you may actually get a better deal from your local retailer if you can negotiate free delivery.

Use shopping bots.
Sites like Bizrate, MySimon, and PriceGrabber scour the internet or their own massive databases for the appliance you want, and then provide a list of prices. You can even set alerts that reveal when the price of a particular model drops. We've found that no one bot always sniffs out the best deal, so it's worth checking two or more. PriceGrabber is nice in that it includes shipping costs in its results.

Handle the merchandise. Spending several thousand dollars on a refrigerator, range, or other high-priced appliance without first seeing it in person can be a costly leap of faith. Even if you've triple-checked the dimensions on the manufacturer's and retailer's website to make sure it will fit your space, you still want to do a hands-on evaluation of the fit, finish, and overall feel. A cheap refrigerator handle or wonky cooktop controls can seriously impact your overall satisfaction with a product, and there's no way you'll pick up on the flaws by viewing images online.

Have an exit strategy for the old unit. Many brick-and-mortar retailers offer free haulaway of old units. Appliance Smart Factory Outlet, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Sears are partners in the Environmental Protection Agency's Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program, meaning if you buy your new appliance through them your old one won't end up in the landfill.

Online shoppers typically have to get rid of their appliances on their own. Check with your utility company to see if they offer free haulaway as part of their energy efficiency program. You might even receive a small rebate, say $50, for removing an older, energy-wasting appliance from the power grid. If the unit is still working, consider donating it to a local charity or giving it away on Freecyle.

For more information on appliance shopping, including our latest Ratings of retailers for small and large appliances, read The best places to buy appliances. And see our appliance reviews to find the top-performing models from our tests.

Daniel DiClerico

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