Our Ratings Tables show how area hardware stores stack up for quality and price.

For prices, Home Depot and Lowe’s beat all of the independents and other chains. But our price survey did find below-average prices at several area independent stores.

Among the independents, we found big store-to-store price variation. Prices at some stores were about 10 percent below the all-store average for items we checked, while prices at others were more than 15 percent above average.

For many customers, price is only one consideration. You also want good advice and customer service. Unfortunately, big chains Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Orchard Supply fall well short on some key service fronts. At the time of our last full, published report, on our surveys of area consumers, Home Depot received “superior” ratings for quality of advice from only 16 percent of its surveyed customers, Lowe’s from only 35 percent, and Orchard Supply from only 53 percent. In contrast, a number of independent stores throughout the Bay Area received “superior” ratings for advice from more than 80 percent of their surveyed customers. Keep in mind that even at top-rated stores you may have to seek out the best-informed staff members.