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Consumer Reports

July 27, 2010

Where the appliances are at

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.

THE HUNT FOR LOW PRICES

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.

SERVICE MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE

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.

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