you go shopping, here are our readers’ picks for the top sellers of home
electronics, appliances, books, and more
One of Consumer
Reports’ greatest strengths is the ability to tap into experiences of
hundreds of thousands of serious shoppers on subjects as diverse as
restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, and theme parks. Year after year, our Annual
Questionnaire provides fodder for some of the best-read stories in the magazine
and on our Web site, in which we rate the stores and services people rely on
day-in and day-out.
Whether your priority is quality, impeccable service,
rock-bottom prices, or a combination of the three, our surveys identify the
merchants that that did the best job of satisfying our readers’ needs. Chances
are, you’ll be happy with these, too. In most instances, the results may make
you wonder why almost anyone bothers to battle traffic and crowds by driving to
Readers who bought electronics products online were happier
than those who bought at stores. That
was the case for every product category we have data about. It proved
especially true for digital cameras, audio gear, camcorders, DVD players, and
digital video recorders. The top overall e-tailer was Crutchfield, closely
followed by Costco.com, BuyDig.com, Amazon, Buy.com, and JR.com. Among the brick-and-mortar stores, readers
gave the nod to locally run independents, but also praised Costco, Ritz Camera,
Tweeter, Ultimate Electronics, and H.H. Gregg. Each, however, had particular
Low-price leaders: Costco.com (and Costco stores), BuyDig.com,
Amazon, Buy.com, and BJ’s Wholesale.
Widest selection: Crutchfield, BuyDig.com, Amazon, Buy.com,
Best stores for service and selection: Ritz Camera, Tweeter,
Again, Web-based retailers tended to have better prices.
Amazon was the only seller to earn the highest possible rating for its prices;
PC/Mac Connection, PC/Mac Mall, and TigerDirect had the broadest selection and
scored better-than-average on price.
A key limitation of independent online retailers such as
these is that you may not have a lot of flexibility in customizing. The best
place to do that is at a manufacturer’s own Web site. Among those, Apple rated
tops in our survey, with superior selection and service. Lenovo (IBM) ranked
among the highest overall for Windows PCs, though Dell earned top marks for
selection. Our survey respondents were less satisfied overall buying at retail
stores. Most of those stores offered average prices at best and few earned high
marks for their service or selection. Two exceptions: Apple’s retail stores and
For retailers with both Web-based and physical stores,
you’re better off going online. Costco and Circuit City Web sites, for example,
offered a bit better selection than their stores. One advantage of dealing with
a retailer/e-tailer: You can buy the system online, then pick it up almost
immediately from the store. If you’re dissatisfied with your purchase, you can
also return it to the store rather than shipping it back.
If you’re shopping for a vacuum cleaner, blender, toaster,
or food processor, you’re probably better off skipping the stores entirely and
clicking on Amazon, which won praise as the single best source for small
appliances, even better than independent merchants. Shopping online eliminated
many of our survey respondents’ complaints about regular retailers, such as
finding good help and the lack of clearly marked prices. Amazon’s prices were
unbeatable, and selection and product quality top-notch.
Who can resist a bargain? At manufacturers’ outlet stores,
you can realistically expect to save between 30 and 50 percent off the everyday
price of clothes, leather goods, housewares, china, and other merchandise sold
elsewhere. Our tests confirmed that the goods are, in fact, quite good, even if
they’re not always identical to what you’ll find at department stores and
boutiques. And while prices are low, they’re not always rockbottom.
The outlets that offered the best combination of value,
quality, service and selection: L.L. Bean (clothes, footwear, outdoor
supplies), Jockey (apparel and intimates), Lenox, Pfaltzgraff and Mikasa
(tableware and housewares), Carter’s and Osh Kosh B’gosh (children’s apparel).
In a recent price study, pitting major booksellers Borders
and Barnes & Noble against each other as well as Amazon, Jeff Bezos'
megastore was the clear winner. Amazon discounted 21 of the 23 titles we
checked – including hardcovers and paperbacks, bestsellers, and lesser-known
works – for total savings of 36 percent off list. Barnes & Noble’s online
store, BN.com, discounted 18 titles for savings of 19 percent. The stores themselves discounted only a few
new releases and bestsellers; savings were minimal, around 5 percent. If you
order through borders.com, you’ll be redirected to Amazon (which processes the
orders) and pay the lower Amazon price. This time of year, book chains
frequently waive shipping fees. Gift-wrapping is often free in stores, but may
cost extra if you buy online. Gift cards from Borders and Barnes & Noble
never expire and don’t have hidden fees. Amazon’s gift certificates become
worthless after two years. In a sweeping story on buying bookstores we did
several years ago, readers lauded independent sellers, largely on their
strength of their knowledgeable and solicitous service. So if you need
assistance, consider your local dealer.