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More retailers offering appliances

By: Lea Holland

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

June 17, 2011

By Consumer Reports

When it comes to shopping for appliances, it's not just about the big retail stores anymore. Online stores, independent retailers and even QVC (the TV-shopping channel) have been among the most satisfying places to buy appliances, according to survey responses from more than 16,000 Consumer Reports subscribers.

The research found that overall, 92 percent of respondents were highly satisfied buying small appliances online. As for walk-in stores, over three-quarters (77 percent) were highly satisfied.

Abt Electronics, which is based in the Chicago area and ships nationwide, was among the top retailers for large appliances. It reaped praise from shoppers who bought one or more appliances in the past year. CR didn't have enough responses to report on every appliance retailer, but Sears and Best Buy in particular received low grades for returns.

For small-appliance purchases, Amazon and QVC topped the list. Amazon received high marks overall from shoppers and was a standout for selection, while QVC also had among the highest scores for customer satisfaction.

CR did learn of some criticism from respondents who'd shopped for small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, gas grills and coffee makers. Product selection, service at the time of purchase, and the checkout experience were particular sore points, especially at Wal-Mart and its warehouse-club sibling, Sam's Club.

Tips for appliance shopping

Overall, people were generally happy with their experiences shopping for appliances, especially compared with other consumer services CR measures. But some strategies they tried made shopping more successful:

Plan ahead to get good prices.

Almost 30 percent of those shopping for major appliances looked up buying advice on retailers' websites before making their purchase. Of those shoppers, 75 percent found it helpful. Sign up on a retailer's website weeks before a purchase to receive e-mail coupons and other promotional deals such as rebates, free shipping and so- called VIP sales. And try haggling. According to 35 percent of major-appliance shoppers who tried to negotiate prices, 72 percent were successful — with a median savings of $97.

Choose a store for its selection.

Survey respondents who bought major appliances praised Abt Electronics and the Best Buy-owned Pacific Sales for having an ample selection. Home Depot got low marks for its selection of small and major appliances. Amazon received high marks overall from shoppers for small appliances and was a standout for selection, while Costco and Sam's Club, the two warehouse clubs in the survey, received low scores for small-appliance selection.

Consumers search for service.

Independent retailers earned high marks from shoppers for major and small appliances. Abt got top marks among shoppers of major appliances, and independent retailers had the highest marks from small-appliance shoppers at walk-in stores. All the other venues except Sears had low scores.

Watch out for warranties.

Eighty-three percent of shoppers for major appliances said their checkout didn't conclude without at least a suggestion that they purchase an extended warranty. The median price paid for an extended warranty or service contract was $113 for a major appliance and $40 for a small appliance. CR doesn't recommend purchasing a warranty or service contract because most repairs do not occur during the limited time period covered by the extended warranty. Consumers who do purchase one should be sure to understand the terms, particularly how it differs from the standard warranty and which years it covers.

© Copyright 2011 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution