If you're shopping for a major appliance this holiday season, you have plenty of incentives to go to stores early. Major appliance retailers have adjusted their Black Friday schedules, starting their big sales early and pacing the bargains over several weeks to reduce in-store crowding and prevent COVID-19's spread. The Centers for Disease Control recently recommended that people avoid going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving. So take steps to protect yourself and plan to shop sooner rather than later.
Even if you plan to do all of your shopping from home, start now or be prepared to pounce on short-lived Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals. You'll need to act fast because the deep price cuts won't be as plentiful this season, says Jason Barry, an analyst who covers large appliances for Gap Intelligence, a market research company. Pandemic-related appliance-manufacturing problems, coupled with high consumer demand, mean that inventories are lower than usual this time of the year. So manufacturers and retailers don't need to shave 40 percent from the price of many appliances, a common Black Friday practice.
The average discount on a refrigerator, for instance, is 24 percent in current Black Friday promotions, versus 36 percent last year, Barry says. Best Buy's Black Friday ads feature just four discounted refrigerators, compared with 19 in 2019; for Home Depot, that figure is 11, versus 16 in 2019. Lowe's ads mention 7 advertised refrigerators; last year, the retailer featured 27 models.
The big-box stores continue to offer their more common 10-percent off savings on some large appliances, with a smattering of larger discounts, Barry says. "But there will be fewer deals and weaker discounts in general due to a lack of availability," he says. "So the single most important tip this holiday season is to start shopping early." Keep in mind, too, that a deep price cut alone doesn't make an appliance worth buying. “Not every discount is a good deal, especially if you end up with a brand that’s repair-prone,” says Mark Allwood, CR’s market analyst for large appliances.
Example: Costco is selling the Samsung RF28R6201SR French-door refrigerator for $1,700 during its holiday sales event. Costco says that's $600, or 26 percent, off its usual price. But the predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings for Samsung's French-door refrigerators are only Fair, Consumer Reports found.
At Best Buy, for $100 less, you can get a higher-rated LG LFCS27596S fridge right now. And LG has better predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. (Costco sells LG fridges but currently isn't selling this model.)
Bottom line: Do do your homework before opening your wallet. Here are five other things to know to get the best possible bargain.
1. Not Every Suite Is a Sweet Deal
You might be tempted by offers and rebates on matching kitchen suites—typically a refrigerator, range, dishwasher, and microwave from the same maker.
But Consumer Reports’ exclusive Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings show that it’s difficult to find brands that are tops for reliability across all four categories.
For instance, LG has top reliability scores for top- and bottom-freezer refrigerators. But reliability for its dishwashers is middling.
Appliances by the same brand can also receive different reliability ratings. For instance, LG’s French-door and side-by-side refrigerators are just average. Among its ranges, gas models are more reliable than electric ones.
2. Don’t Buy Large Appliances by Brand Alone
If you're brand-loyal, remember that not all models from one manufacturer are created equal.
We tested two Kenmore three-door French-door refrigerators of the same width and with comparable prices. One of our top performers, the Kenmore 73035, currently going for $1,400, earns Excellent and Very Good ratings in two crucial tests: thermostat control and temperature uniformity, respectively.
Its brandmate, the Kenmore 73105, now priced at $2,000, earns an Excellent rating for temperature uniformity but only a Fair rating for thermostat control. So it has only a middling rank in our ratings.
3. Always Try for a Better Bargain
Whatever the listed price—even one that has dropped for Black Friday—you may be able to get an even better bargain by haggling.
In a member survey conducted by CR, 28 percent of major-appliance shoppers haggled for a better price, and those who succeeded ended up saving a median of $113.
Among the most successful negotiating tactics when shopping for a major appliance were checking competing retailers’ websites to compare offers, and purchasing multiple items at once. (Of course, you’ll probably want to return or cancel the items purchased at the higher price.)
Other effective steps our members used: Asking for a senior, veteran, or membership discount; referring to prices found at other walk-in retailers; and checking deals at price-comparison websites.
And here’s a winning trick: Ask whether you can buy a floor model or one that’s slightly blemished (in a spot that won’t show) for less.
4. Don’t Overlook Shopping Online
Though you wouldn’t think twice about buying a toaster or a coffee maker online, ordering a large appliance online requires taking a bigger leap. But it’s one that more and more shoppers are willing to make.
Quite a few members of our Consumer 101 Facebook group told us this summer that they've purchased large appliances online during the pandemic, either to protect their health or because their preferred stores were closed at the time they needed a new appliance.
The increase in online large-appliance purchases predates the pandemic, though. Among our members surveyed about their purchases between January 2019 and April 2020, more than 1 in 5—22 percent—had bought a large appliance online. That's double the percentage from our 2014 survey.
In some instances, you can only view and purchase a large appliance online. Costco Wholesale, for instance, only keeps a fraction of its appliance offerings on view at its warehouses; you can find the bulk of its inventory online. With the exception of a few floor-model sales, it requires nearly all purchases to be made online.
Notably, many retailers have beefed up their websites and apps to make it easier for consumers to shop remotely.
Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha, for instance, can demonstrate appliance features via video. Home Depot's app provides a two-dimensional image of an appliance on your smart phone; you can then use your phone's camera to place that image in your home virtually, so you can see how it looks.
Ordering online often comes with free shipping, though you probably can’t skip out on tax. And you can still attempt to barter by contacting a customer-service rep either by phone or in an online chat.
5. Get Those Free Extras
Even if you fail to chip away at the sale price, there are other ways to save on a large appliance, such as asking the retailer to waive fees for shipping or delivery. Many already offer this service and also include free haul-away of your old appliance.
Ask whether installation is included, especially if you’re just replacing one appliance with another rather than undertaking an entire kitchen remodel.
by James McQueen