Unfortunately, it’s very seldom in life that I feel I have the upper hand. This is especially true in my role as a consumer.
I abhor high-pressure sales situations. Mattress stores, car dealerships, bridal salons, furniture stores — any place with sales staff that works on commission — I despise them all. There’s nothing like that feeling of extreme discomfort that comes with the possibility of a salesperson trying to trick you into overpaying for some “big ticket item” for the sake of their commission. I always leave feeling as though I’ve been taken advantage of. The reality is, the house always wins. Needless to say, I was less than excited to go appliance shopping.
Over the summer, Alex got to move into our new house nearly a month before I did. About a week after he arrived, he called me to tell me that both our refrigerator and our washing machine were not working properly.
The freezer portion of our side-by-side refrigerator wouldn’t freeze anything because the door wouldn’t stay shut. His solution was to stick a box in front of the door to keep it shut but that seemed to trap too much moisture inside, coating the freezer and everything in it in a gross, frosty film. Add to that, the shelving in the refrigerator side had obviously broken long ago and the sellers had precariously tied them back in with wire.
The washing machine stopped draining all the way after the first couple washes. Fantastic. Of course, we were planning to replace most of the major appliances eventually but this was not a cost we had anticipated so soon. And of course, conveniently, the 1-year home warranty that came with our house covered nothing related to any major appliances, despite the promises of our Realtor.
With Labor Day sales not far away, our plan was to hold out for a few extra weeks. In the meantime, Alex had to drag all of his laundry to the laundromat and forgo all ice cream and other freezer-bound foods. Last week the time had finally arrived. Alex started poring over Consumer Reports, looking for the best of the best refrigerators and washing machines. I began dreaming of stainless steel refrigerators and beautiful high-efficiency front-loading washer/dryer sets. Alex started price comparing in preparation for our shopping adventures and made plans, at the recommendation of his oldest brother, to check out scratch and dent appliances at the local Sears Outlet.
A few days before we were set to shop, I discovered that our dryer was much newer than we realized and had to abandon my front-loader dreams. We decided to search for a high-efficiency top loader that would match the general aesthetic of our dryer. In terms of refrigerators, we were looking for either a 33″ french door or side-by-side stainless steel refrigerator. Finally, we ventured out.
We headed to the Sears Outlet first, not really sure what to expect. We pulled up to a large warehouse in the middle of a rundown area and navigated our way into a large room filled with slightly damaged appliances. After taking one step towards the washing machines, we were approached by an overeager 19-year-old salesgirl. She seemed nice enough. We explained our intentions to her and she left us alone to browse for all of 3 minutes before coming back to check on us. We thanked her and sent her away as we researched various products on my iPhone. As would any discount store, all of their stickers indicated several hundred dollars worth of savings on each appliance. In reality, the prices we looked up on my phone revealed in most cases, savings of about $30 on most of the washing machines.
We finally landed on a high-efficiency top loader by Kenmore. There were two small dents on the side. The price was $493.93, a savings of over $200.
Next, we moved onto the refrigerators. Alex had earmarked a 33″ French Door refrigerator by Kenmore that had excellent ratings on Consumer Reports. We were surprised to find two of them in the outlet. One had a little too much cosmetic damage to live with. The other had one small scuff at the bottom and one small dent at the top. Our backup was to purchase a brand new side-by-side somewhere else. The price is what sold us. This fridge was much nicer than a side-by-side and the savings were at least $400. After some browsing, we decided to bite the bullet and get it.
We paid $1907.93, saving us about $400.
Lastly, we were surprised to discover they sold mattresses. We had been in the market for a queen mattress for our guest room at the request of Alex’s parents. The prices were pretty good and since we were allowed to have up to 4 pieces delivered, we decided to go for it and get a Sealy mattress/box spring set.
The most unusual and frustrating part of the experience came at checkout. As she rung up all of our purchases, the salesgirl proceeded to tell us how important it was for us to purchase Sears’ Major Appliance Protection Plan. Alex and I had received some warning of this sales pitch prior to checkout and had discussed turning it down because of the prohibitive cost and monetary risk on betting that something would break sooner rather than later. She explained that for an extra ~$150 for our washer and ~$650 (!!!!) for the refrigerator, we would get 5 years of free service calls, maintenance check-ups, and other supposed perks in the event that something went wrong. More or less, she was telling us that we would absolutely need this because the appliances they were selling us were sure to break. I did a mental double take. Excuse me? In not so many words, she told us that Sears was selling us pieces of crap. She told us about how Kenmore doesn’t manufacture their own refrigerators and how if the computer in the door shut down, our refrigerator would completely stop functioning, ruining hundreds of dollars worth of food. Still, we resisted. Another saleswoman, a sassy older lady who had been observing from the other side of the counter, intervened on behalf of the young salesgirl. She proceeded to accuse us of being young idiots who were taking an enormous risk by not purchasing this very expensive extra insurance policy. She told us that she always purchases the protection plan because “she knows things aren’t made like they used to be.” Again, I was baffled to have two different salespersons tell me that they were selling us p-o-s products. I mean, good grief. Manufacturing has reached an all time low. Still, the extra expense seemed outrageous — nearly an extra $800 (eliminating nearly all of our savings for the day!) just in case something happened. At this point, Alex started to cave. Having been in these high-pressure situations with him before, I knew that I would have to be the one to hold strong. I said, politely, once and for all, that we would not be purchasing the protection plan that day. The sassy older woman walked away, frustrated, and the young salesgirl told us that we still had 14 days to purchase the plan if we changed our minds. Finally, we paid and walked out. I started researching the protection plan, finding a mixed bag of answers from people who bought the plan and some that had not. It sounded like there many people who live by “buyer beware” and others who claimed that it was a huge ripoff on Sears’ end. In the end, we decided to risk it.
Despite the pressure and the threats of failure, I’m proud that we saved some serious cash by shopping at the outlet. Sears delivered all of our items last week and so far, so good. The dents aren’t too noticeable and it’s nice to have some functional appliances (for now!).
Has anyone else had experiences like this shopping for appliances? Did you buy the protection plan?
September 5, 2012