Appliance Store Buying Guide

Appliance Store Buying Guide

When you’re looking for a new large or small appliance, price is just part of the equation. You also want an appliance store that has the item in stock and can deliver it when you want it, with no hassles.

For that type of service you can’t go wrong by shopping at Abt or Costco Wholesale. Both retailers get high marks from more than 38,000 CR members who told us about their experiences buying more than 56,000 major and small appliances at 31 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- and small appliance retailers for the 12th survey in a row. In fact, three of the four top-rated major-appliance retailers are also regional retailers. (Costco, the national membership warehouse, is the exception.) Independent retailers and websites also place among the top small appliance retailers.

No Big-Box Stores In the Top Tier

None of the national big-box stores with hundreds of locations—Best Buy, Home Depot or Lowe’s—rates 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 earn only subpar ratings for some individual attributes. All three of the warehouse clubs—BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco and Sam’s Club—have the lowest possible score for small-appliance selection (along with regional player Menard’s). Sam’s also craters in its score for service, along with Canadian Tire, Home Depot and Walmart. In our small-appliance ratings, Walmart gets the lowest possible score for in-store atmosphere.

But even Walmart receives an above average score for overall shopping satisfaction. In fact, all but a few of the small- and large-appliance retailers in our ratings receive high or very high scores for overall satisfaction. Something about the shopping experience at these retailers gives our members a more positive feeling overall than what each of our eight 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 to make the most of your appliance-shopping dollars.

Haggling Often Pays Off

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, though few online shoppers tried to haggle, those who did were as successful at getting a discount as in-store hagglers.

What Works When Bargaining for a Major Appliance

Twenty-three percent of major-appliance shoppers haggle for a better price, and two-thirds of those succeed. And their savings aren’t chump change; our survey finds they save a median of $119 per appliance.

Some retailers are more amenable to deal-making than others. In our survey, only 36 percent of major-appliance shoppers at Abt negotiated over price, but 92 percent were successful, earning a median discount of $124. Bargaining over large appliances with big-box and some other stores also paid off:

• Best Buy. Sixty-nine percent of major appliance bargainers were successful, cutting a median of $130 off their purchase price..
• Lowe’s. The success rate was 64 percent and the median savings was $120.
• The Home Depot. Hagglers scored a deal 61 percent of the time, shaving a median of $96 from their bills.
• Independent retailers. Severty-one percent of hagglers won a discount; the median saved was $120. 
• Spencers TV & Appliance, P.C. Richard & Son. Three-quarters of bargainers at these retailers said they successfully earned a deal, though CR doesn’t have enough data to quantify the savings.

Our members report trying a number of price-negotiation tactics. Among successful large-appliance hagglers, the two most winning bargaining techniques were referring to prices offered by other retailers, and offering to buy a floor model. Over three-quarters of negotiators got a price break using either of these two tactics. Another effective bargaining method: pointing out that you’re a veteran or senior citizen.

What Works When Bargaining for a Small 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 $51 per appliance.

The most successful price-negotiation tactic for small-appliance buyers: Just asking if the retailer can do better. Eighty-six percent who tried this gambit ended up with a cut in price.

What Works When Bargaining for Online Purchases

For online purchases, the most successful bargaining medium is email. Whether shopping for major or small appliances, consumers who emailed a website to bargain on the price were successful 90 percent of the time. Other successful routes to a deal:

• Online chat. Eighty-five percent of online major-appliance hagglers succeeded in getting a deal; 77 percent of online small-appliance hagglers succeeded.
• Retailer’s mobile app. Eighty-five percent of online major-appliance hagglers succeeded in getting a deal; 94 percent of online small-appliance hagglers succeeded.
• Phoning the retailer. Eighty-one percent of online major-appliance hagglers succeeded in getting a deal; 85 percent of online small-appliance hagglers succeeded.

What to Bargain Over

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 74 percent of small-appliance buyers and 62 percent of major-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, less than 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 major-appliance purchase, merely by asking the retailer.

Services are not the only factor on which to haggle. Retailers may offer you free accessories that are needed for the installation, such as a hose for a dishwasher or an electrical cord required for hooking up a dryer.

Warranties and Service Contracts

We found that it’s rarely worthwhile to purchase an extended warranty. Only 17 percent of major-appliance shoppers ended up buying an extended warranty or service contract to cover their purchase; with small-appliance buyers, it was just 3 percent. Our survey found that less than half of those who bought such coverage did much research on what the warranty covered before buying.

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.