Unlike most other big-ticket transactions, a lot can go wrong with appliance purchases. As you can see from our Ratings Tables, many stores, particularly the big chains, were rated low for the advice provided by their salespeople. And according to the ratings we get, the problems persist, with frequent delivery delays and improper and sloppy installation work. Fortunately, several area retailers do well by their customers the vast majority of the time.

You don’t have to pay more to get good service. High-rated stores were just as likely to quote low prices as their low-rated competitors. And don’t assume you’ll get low prices by buying from the big chains or even online: We often found lower prices elsewhere.

Don’t assume that a sale price—even a heavily discounted sale price—is a good price. The sale prices offered by many local stores and on most websites probably aren’t special prices at all. Unfortunately, at most stores these sales never end. A 10-month-long investigation by Checkbook found that many stores use deceptive practices, especially when selling appliances. Even if the sign says “Save 60%,” it’s probably meaningless and probably not a good deal.

Although we don’t find as much store-to-store price variation for appliances as in most other service fields, considerable savings are possible. It is easy to obtain price quotes from salespersons at appliance stores, although to get the best prices you should call or email and at least mention that you’re shopping prices at several stores. To make sure you get the best possible price, make stores compete for your business by calling or emailing several for price quotes--it's very easy to get quotes from stores for appliances, and because of manufacturers' restrictions on how stores can advertise prices, you'll often obtain stores' best prices only if you call.

When comparing prices, take into account fees for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation. If you know your install will be complicated or unusual, hire a top-rated plumber for the job.

Pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can protest the charge with your card issuer.