If you're in the market for new appliances, you probably want to find a store with reasonable prices, good selection, trained help and a smooth shopping experience. But results of two surveys from the Consumer Reports National Research Center show that no one retailer was able to provide all of those things.
CR did find some cause for hope. Abt Electronics, in the Chicago area, and independent local stores garnered high praise from shoppers who bought a major appliance in the past year. For small appliances, independents also rated highly, along with Costco, though the standout was Amazon.com, as in past years.
CR's rankings for shopper satisfaction came from more than 21,000 respondents to its 2009 Appliance Shopper Satisfaction Survey. It also commissioned a separate, nationally representative Home Gripes survey of 1,405 homeowners about their experiences shopping at home stores.
Most people who responded to the Shopper Satisfaction survey said they had decided on a store because they were looking for low prices. That was especially true in the hunt for small appliances. Almost 10 percent of small-appliance shoppers and a third of those shopping for major appliances tried to negotiate for a lower price. Of those, about seven in 10 succeeded, to the tune of $50 off their small appliance and $100 off a major one. An annoying problem to watch out for, according to CR's Home Gripes survey: excessive delivery or installation costs.
Bottom line: Only Abt Electronics scored better than average on price for major appliances. For small appliances, Amazon.com and Costco got readers' highest marks for price for the second year in a row.
Besides price, the expertise and manner of a store's sales staff were key reasons for choosing a major appliance retailer, according to the CR Shopper Satisfaction Survey. But respondents to the Home Gripes survey cited difficulty in finding a useful salesperson at all as one of their chief shopping annoyances. Salespeople who were arrogant or even nasty were especially bothersome for women.
Bottom line: Independent retailers, Abt Electronics and Pacific Sales in California received top marks for having salespeople knowledgeable in major appliances. The trio also stood out for service rendered; Best Buy scored below average for its staff. For staff expertise and service in small appliances, independent local retailers scored best. Among major retailers, only Lowe's stood out; and for service, Sears scored above average.
Around a quarter of major- and small-appliance shoppers chose retailers based on their reputation for high-quality products. Retailers varied significantly on both counts. Poor selection was a complaint for less than 5 percent of respondents to CR's Shopper Satisfaction survey. But almost a quarter of small-appliance shoppers at Sam's Club complained that the store had too few brands or models available for selection. For major appliances, no store scored better than average for shopping ease.
Bottom line: For major-appliance product quality and selection, Abt Electronics and Pacific Sales scored best; for selection, Home Depot scored below average. For small-appliance purchasing, Amazon.com and independents stood out for quality and selection. Shopping for small appliances in stores was more varied, with independent retailers getting top marks for shopping ease, followed by Sears, Lowe's and Best Buy, which all scored above average.
Stores that push extended warranties were among the top annoyances in CR's Home Gripes survey. In the Shopper Satisfaction Survey, respondents who bought a major appliance were much more likely than those buying small appliances to be hit with an extended-warranty offer.
Bottom line: For small appliances, Amazon.com's storage of shipping addresses and payment preferences might have contributed to its high score for checkout ease in the Shopper Satisfaction Survey. Independent retailers also received top marks, followed by Costco. For major appliances, no retailer scored worse than average. But Abt Electronics and independents fared best.
By the Editors of Consumer Reports ( www.consumerreports.org )