You don’t need to shop at a big retail chain to get the best prices on appliances. In fact, some independent stores in the Philadelphia region offer better deals on dryers and dish washers than major retailers such as Home Depot and Best Buy, according to a price check by undercover shoppers.

Take Anthony’s Appliances, a small shop on Cottman Avenue in Philadelphia. The store offered prices that were 12 percent below average, the lowest among 39 companies that sell appliances in the region, according to Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer group that publishes business ratings. By comparison, Home Depot offered prices 1 percent less than the competition, while Best Buy had average prices.

“For appliances, going to Home Depot and Lowe’s is not going to result in big savings for you, and you probably can get better service from an independent store,” said Kevin Brasler, Checkbook executive editor. “People assume that chains have good prices and therefore [they] might have to put up with some hassle, but when it comes to appliances, that’s not the case.”

Those were among the findings of Checkbook’s undercover shoppers, who asked stores for the lowest prices they could offer for 17 appliance models, including refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, clothes washers, and dryers. The secret shoppers also asked for quotes for delivery and installation fees, haul-away costs, and parts or installation kits. In addition, Checkbook rated the quality of appliance shops using 6,000 reviews it received from consumers, reporting ratings for stores that received at least 10 reviews, Brasler said. Checkbook is supported entirely by subscriptions and donations, and does not carry advertisements or accept referral fees.

How Local Stores’ Appliance Prices Compare

Checkbook’s undercover shoppers compared prices for 17 appliance models from stores across the Philadelphia region. Using the price quotes, Checkbook calculated scores that show how each retailer’s prices compare to the average price for all surveyed stores. Checkbook adjusted scores so the average price comparison score is $100. For example, prices for a retailer with a score of $105 would be 5 percent higher than the average.

Consumers Checkbook * Scores are based on prices our shoppers collected for 17 appliance models, plus stores’ costs for delivery, haul-away of old appliances, and installation.
Staff Graphic

Beside finding the best and worst deals, Checkbook found that appliance stores used deceptive “fake discounts," in which retailers compare a sales price to an “original price” that was rarely, if ever, the actual amount paid for the product. And although stores must offer appliances at a manufacturer’s “minimum advertised price" [MAP], many retailers will sell units below what’s advertised if shoppers email or call for a quote, Brasler said.

“On the surface, there isn’t a lot of price variation for appliances. But once you start getting in touch with stores, especially independent stores where they have price flexibility, you’ll start to see savings,” Brasler said. It’s easier to negotiate a price at independent stores because you’re more likely to speak with a manager or owner, he added.

Overall, there was little price variation among the 39 companies, with prices ranging from 13 percent more to 12 percent less than average. Checkbook said that’s a smaller range compared with other types of local service providers it covers. Still, Brasler noted there are deals to be had for smart shoppers. For example, the highest price quoted for one Maytag refrigerator model was $2,209, while the lowest price was $1,530, a savings of $679.

Independent stores such as Dominic’s Appliances in Philadelphia and Delaware Valley Appliances in Springfield, Delaware County, got top marks in both price and quality. Dominic’s prices were 7 percent lower than average, and 92 percent of the store’s 30 surveyed customers called the shop “superior,” Checkbook reported. Delaware Valley Appliances’ prices were 6 percent lower, with 83 percent of 26 customers rating the place “superior.”

Anthony Antrilli, owner of Anthony’s Appliances, said he keeps prices low because he doesn’t have much overhead. Aside from hiring for delivery, Antrilli said, he’s the only employee in the shop.

“I keep prices low because I work six days a week in the store. I don’t miss a day. I haven’t missed a day in 30 years,” he said. If he didn’t offer low prices, “people won’t come here. It’s a little neighborhood store. No one is gonna come here for the ambience.”

The most expensive quotes came from A-1 Appliance Service in Delran, which offered prices that were 13 percent above average. In a statement, the store said it sells top quality appliances, offers “unbeatable personal service,” and has an “unparalleled knowledge of the business.”

Big chains typically offered average prices, including Lowe’s (2 percent less), Sears (1 percent less), and BJ’s (1 percent more), according to Checkbook. The major exception, though, was Costco, which offered prices 7 percent below average.

Inquirer readers can read the full Checkbook appliance store study for free until July 1.