When it comes to buying electronics, online retailers continue to outscore walk-in stores, according to a Consumer Reports’ survey. The survey, based on more than 38,000 purchases of electronics including flat-screen televisions, found that online retailers offered better prices.
Although no single retailer has it all, perennial standouts Amazon.com and Crutchfield. com came close. Both were among the highest-scoring retailers for electronics —
each offering above-average selection. Newcomer B&H (bhphotovideo.com) also scored well in CR’s survey and, like Amazon.com, was noted for its prices.
Despite CR’s findings, consumers shouldn’t rule out brick-and-mortar stores. If price is a top priority, warehouse stores such as Costco and BJ’s Wholesale stood out in the survey, but consumers shouldn’t expect the best service or the widest selection. Independent retailers Apple, Sony, Tweeter, Ultimate Electronics, Ritz Camera, P.C. Richard & Son and HH Gregg were noted for attributes that made the store experience easier, including customer service, satisfying checkouts and general shopping ease.
10 ways to save money when buying electronics
Whether buying online or in a brick-and-mortar store, CR recommends the following 10 money-savings secrets that can help consumers stick to their budget this holiday season:
1. Buying online can be better. The higher-rated electronics retailers in CR’s annual reader survey are Web sites. Readers who bought online rated their overall satisfaction at 90 out of 100 — higher than those who bought in a store.
2. Be wary of pricey add-ons. Retailers may push high-priced accessories such as premium video cables for a television. As a rule, CR suggests choosing regular alternatives, since the fancy versions can cost twice as much and aren’t likely to give much performance benefit.
3. Skip the extended warranty. CR’s reliability data continues to indicate that repair rates on most electronics are low overall. But even in the unlikely event that a repair is required after the manufacturer’s warranty expires; the bill for the repair itself is often comparable with the typical cost of an extended warranty.
4. The best prices come early in the season. CR has found that the lowest prices of the holiday season on flat-panel televisions and more have been offered on Black Friday and the other frantic shopping days after Thanksgiving.
5. Consider refurbished and open-box items. Buying refurbished or open-box items can save consumers 30 percent or more over buying new. To minimize risks, CR recommends buying from a trustworthy manufacturer or retailer.
6. Asking for a lower price often works. A recent CR survey found that about a third of shoppers tried to negotiate the price of an electronics item within the past three years and most succeeded at least once in their efforts.
7. Recognize what each retailer offers. No single merchant has it all — low prices, broad selection and convenience. CR recommends that consumers select their top shopping priorities — low price or best selection, for example — and head to the nearest retailer that offers them, rather than worry about modest differences among similar retailers.
8. High specs might not ensure high quality. Ads and in-store sales pitches often imply a direct relationship between high resolution and high image quality. However, CR’s lab tests reveal that’s not always the case: Some high-def televisions and high-megapixel cameras fell short in other respects, such as contrast or color.
9. Performance often runs in the family. Consumers won’t go wrong if they buy a model that scored well in CR’s full tests, but if the model being considered isn’t included in the Ratings, they can still offer some guidance.
10. Top performance might not be needed. CR’s rigorous tests sometimes turn up fairly subtle performance distinctions — say between very good and excellent performance on an attribute. While these differences are evident in side-by-side comparisons, they can be less obvious in normal isolated use.
Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.