Retailers aren't one size fits all. No matter how much each store tries, it can't offer the best selection of everything at the best price. To help shoppers find the best deals, we've identified some of the best and worst buys at big retailers nationwide. And since this is the season of big-screen TVs, it seems only fitting that we kick off this series with the best and worst items to buy at Best Buy.
When there's a product category in which a specific retailer doesn't excel, there's opportunity for deals. At Best Buy, that category is major appliances.
Best Buy struggles to grow this business, or to even be considered as a destination for appliances by consumers. So it's hungry for your business. Prices on big ticket items like refrigerators, ranges and dishwashers are competitive with other big box stores including Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears. Don't forget the price-matching policy, show proof of an advertised price on the same model at another store and Best Buy will match and beat it. Factor in free delivery, installation and removal/disposal of old appliances and Best Buy's eagerness to build this business pays off in spades.
The best selling LG French Door 27.6-cubic-foot French Door Refrigerator (with through-the-door ice and water in stainless-steel) was $2,429.99 at Best Buy. A comparative search using Price Grabber showed the next closest price at Buy.com at $2,699. Even when adding an 8.5% sales tax charged by Best Buy, the item is still cheaper from the national chain.
It's hard to believe, given this is a core category for Best Buy, but online retailers have really got it beat on price. We compared items designated good buys at deal aggregator sites and found that on HDTVs, Best Buy got bested.
We found the Sony Bravia KDL46EX710 46-inch HDTV on Amazon.com for $999 with free shipping. Best Buy's price was $1,299.99. And when it comes to the Vizio 55-inch LED LCD TV -- ranked as a top pick to watch the Super Bowl on by Consumer Reports, and priced at $1,697.99 -- you can't even get it at Best Buy. The store doesn't carry Vizio products, now among the best-rated and most popular TVs on the market. Instead, Best Buy offers its house brand Insignia TVs.
Just like with home appliances, mobile technology is an area Best Buy is aggressively trying to corner. It has a specially branded website called Best Buy Mobile, that takes a lot of the mystery out of picking a phone and carrier. And it's in a joint venture with the U.K.'s Carphone Warehouse and is opening stores in the U.S. that only sell mobile technology.
Best Buy's handset selection may not go as deep as the carrier's stores, but it will have the most popular phones and it's marketing can make up for any shortcomings. For example, Verizon's popular HTC Droid is free at Best Buy when you activate a new plan, while Verizon charges $99.99 with the same two year committment. And because Best Buy carries more than just the phones, it can offer things like bundled deals and gift cards with purchase.
It may seem like Amazon is unbeatable on price, and in many categories that's true, but Best Buy excelled at selling recorded media before other retailers showed an interest. Those relationships with studios and the gaming industry run deep, and it's not often that Best Buy allows itself to be undersold in this category. So why are DVDs a don't buy?
Because the best that Best Buy can do is to narrowly undercut the competition, in this case Amazon, or match it exactly on price. For example, the price on the newly released The Social Network (Bluray) is $16.99 at both Best Buy and Amazon.com, but if you live in one of the states that doesn't collect sales tax and qualify for free shipping, it's cheaper to go with Amazon. And while Best Buy continues to reduce shelf space and inventory on older titles, Amazon and the private sellers on its site carry pretty much every movie imaginable.
Video game consoles
The three gaming platforms -- the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox -- thrive on hype and revel in scarcity of units. Being sold out of the hot system or video game is more common than not, especially around big gift-giving holidays like Christmas. The manufacturers distribute the most units to the biggest retail accounts, so you're more likely to actually find what you want in stock at Best Buy than elsewhere.
Retailers are bound to sell the products for the manufacturer-recommended price or they lose the right to advertise the items, so prices don't fluctuate much. It's possible to score a Nintendo Wii on eBay for less, but any serious search for the item will turn up the same price.
Anyone still buying prerecorded music in CD form is better off ordering from Amazon. New releases are often several dollars cheaper, like the best selling Showroom of Compassion by Cake, $13.99 at Best Buy and $10 on Amazon. Older titles and digital downloads are even less on iTunes and Amazon.
Headphones and mobile accessories
Unless you're planning on buying used or from a private seller on eBay, Best Buy is often the best bet on mobile extras. The selection will be much broader than other retail stores like Target or Walmart, and if you're serious about music, headphone quality matters. And while top of the line brands such as Bose and Monster's Beats are everywhere, the top of those lines often are only sold through electronics specialists. And while we've been able to find quality products like Monster's Beats Solo for slightly less than Best Buy's $199 asking price, they inevitably come up as out of stock or on back order.
Cables and Connectors
The profit margin on consumer electronics is very thin, especially on large mass market items like TVs. Retailers like Best Buy make up the difference with all the extras: cables, connectors, adapters, and extended warranties. In particular, Best Buy devotes a lot of space to Monster Cable products, some of the highest margin cables and power products in the industry.
Sound and recording professionals may swear by Monster, but the consumer doesn't need to pay that much for things like HDMI cables to connect their HDTV. According to CNET, there's no reason to pay more than $10 for an HDMI cable and those from brands such as Belkin, Monoprice and SimplayHD all perform reliably.