Where to go for a great deal on electronics

The hottest electronics this holiday season? Tablet computers and e-book readers, the editors of Consumer Reports expect. The best places to buy them and other items on your list, including TVs, cameras and camcorders? Online, according to CR’s readers.
CR’s Ratings of places to buy major electronics are based on this year’s annual questionnaire. In that survey of its readers, online shopping scored higher in almost every respect than did shopping at walk-in stores. Respondents made 34 percent of electronics purchases online, which is more than double the percentage from just five years ago.
Convenience is a major reason for the trend. This holiday season, according to retail-analysis firm eMarketer, price-conscious shoppers will shift some of their spending from physical stores to the Web because of the ease in finding deals online.
Shopping at walk-in stores still has its place, notably for those who like to see products up close before they buy. And some of the better retailers in CR’s Ratings are walk-in stores, although those standouts are mostly general retailers rather than chains that specialize in electronics. Below are some pros and cons for several electronics-purchasing venues.
— Dedicated websites. The top websites in CR’s annual electronics-buying survey received high scores across the board, including on price, selection, customer service and product quality. Consumers who want or need personal buying advice but still want to buy online might like Crutchfield.com, where shoppers have access to specialized advisers via phone or online chats to assist them with their orders. And Amazon.com offers a vast amount of user reviews for electronic products, neatly organized and ranked by their helpfulness as judged by fellow shoppers. BHPhotoVideo.com received the top score for product selection, while Newegg.com garnered the highest score for price.
— Independent stores. For shoppers who want in-person assistance with their electronics purchase, an independent store is likely the best bet. In CR’s walk-in store Ratings, only the Apple Store matched independent stores in customer service and product quality. While independent stores only received an average score for prices, survey respondents indicated that they were more successful at negotiating lower prices at independent stores than at some large national retailers.
— Warehouse stores. Warehouse stores like Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Sam’s Club were among the top walk-in stores for price, but all received lower scores for selection and customer service, and therefore aren’t the best option for electronics shoppers who need help with their purchases or are looking for a specific brand or model. And the annual membership fees charged by warehouse chains may negate any price savings unless consumers shop there for other items regularly.
— Major electronics chains. Electronics chains are probably still your best option when you can’t wait to buy an electronics item such as an accessory. Yet CR’s readers found Best Buy and RadioShack to be no better than middling in most respects. Some regional chains scored better than average on most attributes. Those chains included HHGregg, which has stores mostly in the South and Midwest, and P.C. Richard & Son, which has stores in the Northeast.
— Mass merchandisers. Buying major electronics at a department store or discount chain no longer necessarily requires settling for a budget brand and enduring a sales rep who doesn’t know a gigabyte from a glue gun. In this year’s survey, Sears, Target and Walmart scored as high for product quality as did specialty electronics chains. Sears and Target matched Best Buy in service, too, and Sears matched it in selection. But Walmart was below par in service and selection.
HOW TO PAY LESS
Electronics shoppers should follow these tips to save money this holiday season:
— Don’t just accept the asking price; haggle.
— Offer to pay cash in exchange for a discount.
— Say no to extended warranties.
— Consider refurbished models if they have a valid warranty and are from an established seller.

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