A survey of more than 6,000 Consumer Reports readers published in the September 2005 issue of the magazine shows that mom-and-pop stores, which are typically known for service, also offer good prices and a better selection of appliances than most nationwide chains.
According to the study, none of the major retailers that were rated for large appliance purchases, which included Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears, out-priced the independents, and only two of the seven rated for small appliance purchases -- Costco and Target -- were clear winners in this category.
Besides service, selection, and price, readers were asked about their buying experiences, how easy it was to pay for the appliances and check them out of the store, as well as how they felt about what they bought once they got it home.
Independents also proved strong on service when it came to large appliances, with more than 80 percent of buyers very satisfied. Fewer than 60 percent of large-appliance buyers were as satisfied with service at nationwide chains, and just over 50 percent felt that way about Best Buy, which did worst in this area.
Sears was the only major retailer that matched the independents for product selection, service, and checkout for small appliances, and served readers nearly as well when buying large appliances. However, Sears prices proved no better than the other chains overall. Costco is the only store that excelled in price without compromising quality, but that appeal was offset by sub-par service and checkout and less product selection.
Lowe's scored high for a large selection of small appliances, but average on price, service, checkout ease, and product quality. Fewer than 50 percent of those surveyed felt salespeople were helpful and knowledgeable about the large appliances they sold. Home Depot was average overall and trailed the pack for selection among large appliances.
Compared with other small-appliance buyers, more than twice said they overpaid at Wal-Mart. Readers who shopped there ranked small appliances lower in quality than readers who bought elsewhere. Wal-Mart was also among the least satisfying for service and checkout. Crowded, poorly-marked displays were an added gripe.
Compared with the average for other stores, twice as many large-appliance shoppers couldn't find help at Best Buy. Target's small-appliance prices were lower than average, but its reader score was below-average for quality.
The Consumer Reports survey results are based on 6,047 ConsumerReports.org subscribers who reported on 9,056 appliance purchases in the 2004 Online Annual Questionnaire.
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