November 28, 2014

Best Stores for Buying Appliances

When you’re shopping for a new appliance, you want a store that will provide good prices, helpful staff and ease of service along with a good selection.

Unfortunately, two surveys from the Consumer Reports National Research Center show that no one retailer seems able to provide it all.

CR did find some cause for hope. Abt Electronics, in the Chicago area, and independent local stores garnered high praise from shoppers who bought a major appliance in the past year. For small appliances, independents also rated highly, along with Costco, though the standout was Amazon.com, as in past years.

CR’s rankings for shopper satisfaction came from more than 21,000 respondents to its 2009 Appliance Shopper Satisfaction Survey. It also commissioned a separate, nationally representative Home Gripes survey of 1,405 homeowners about their experiences shopping at home stores.

Only Abt Electronics scored better than average on price for major appliances. For small appliances, Amazon.com and Costco got readers’ highest marks for price for the second year in a row.

Here’s more from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Consumer Reports:

Besides price, the expertise and manner of a store’s sales staff were key reasons for choosing a major appliance retailer, according to the CR Shopper Satisfaction Survey. But respondents to the Home Gripes survey cited difficulty in finding a useful salesperson at all as one of their chief shopping annoyances. Salespeople who were arrogant or even nasty were especially bothersome for women.

Independent retailers, Abt Electronics and Pacific Sales in California received top marks for having salespeople knowledgeable in major appliances. The trio also stood out for service rendered; Best Buy scored below average for its staff. For staff expertise and service in small appliances, independent local retailers scored best. Among major retailers, only Lowe’s stood out; and for service, Sears scored above average.

Around a quarter of major- and small-appliance shoppers chose retailers based on their reputation for high-quality products. Retailers varied significantly on both counts. Poor selection was a complaint for less than 5 percent of respondents to CR’s Shopper Satisfaction survey. But almost a quarter of small-appliance shoppers at Sam’s Club complained that the store had too few brands or models available for selection. For major appliances, no store scored better than average for shopping ease.

For major-appliance product quality and selection, Abt Electronics and Pacific Sales scored best; for selection, Home Depot scored below average. For small-appliance purchasing, Amazon.com and independents stood out for quality and selection. Shopping for small appliances in stores was more varied, with independent retailers getting top marks for shopping ease, followed by Sears, Lowe’s and Best Buy, which all scored above average.

Stores that push extended warranties were among the top annoyances in CR’s Home Gripes survey. In the Shopper Satisfaction Survey, respondents who bought a major appliance were much more likely than those buying small appliances to be hit with an extended-warranty offer.

For small appliances, Amazon.com’s storage of shipping addresses and payment preferences might have contributed to its high score for checkout ease in the Shopper Satisfaction Survey. Independent retailers also received top marks, followed by Costco. For major appliances, no retailer scored worse than average. But Abt Electronics and independents fared best.

LG’s Smart Diagnosis

LG has taken the technology they used in the Kenmore Connect system for Sears. and applied the self-diagnosis technology for clothes washers and dryers to their own LG brand.

The SmartDiagnosis system was developed by LG to help customer service representatives quickly and efficiently troubleshoot mechanical issues over the phone, limiting service calls and in-home visits.

Consumers calling the LG customer service center are instructed to press select buttons on the laundry unit, which in turn trigger a series of diagnostic tones. Each tone corresponds with a specific potential maintenance need and can be identified by trained service technicians over the phone, allowing them to evaluate the information and provide feedback based on the data that was received. The system is designed to eliminate a step in the troubleshooting process, because issues may be identifiable without a service technician visit. When service visit is required, the technician can come prepared with the correct parts so that the repair can be resolved in one visit.

Kenmore’s Talking Appliances

Last February, Mel Bonner, 63, of Tinley Park, Ill., noticed water beneath his washing machine. He couldn’t find a leak, so he dialed the manufacturer’s customer service number. Then he held the receiver up and let the machine do the “talking.”

The washer was “beeping, and lights [were] flashing” as it transmitted self-diagnostic data, says Bonner, a retired electrician. When the telephone representative couldn’t figure out the problem, a technician was dispatched to Bonner’s home. The technician “didn’t know what was wrong” when he arrived, says Bonner, “but he knew what wasn’t wrong.” The washing machine was working properly again in less than half an hour. “It was just so simple,” says Bonner. “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t have this.”

Kenmore has unveiled a set of washers and dryers that can speak to technicians, at least over the phone. The appliances, called the Kenmore Elite washer and dryer series, use a technology called Kenmore Connect to speak. Through Kenmore Connect, a machine will send real time diagnostic information to a technician over a phone line.

Once this information is received, the technician can help the consumer fix the problem. The machines don’t speak via a conventional speech synthesizer; the sounds are digitally coded and come out as beeps and something that sounds like noise.

Kenmore said technicians use 100 different data points derived from the Kenmore Connect transmission. This includes air and water temperatures, cycle times and spin speeds. The data points can point to the status of certain electrical and mechanical sub-systems or reveal the mechanical issue with the error code.

The talking appliance is not only convenient for the user, but for Kenmore as well. It allows the company to reduce the amount of time it spends fixing appliances in someone’s house.

“The majority of service calls during the first year of ownership can be rectified by educating new owners over the phone once we have a deep understanding of the question at hand thanks to the information being sent from their Kenmore appliance directly to our experts via the phone.”

Kenmore said it conducted field testing earlier in the year. The initial results from these tests showed the talking significantly reduced the number of customers that needed an in-home repair.

Bonner was one of several thousand customers in a pilot program to test the remote-servicing technology.  LG plans to add the feature to many of its top-of-the-line laundry appliances in the U.S.

Smeg Retro Washer

I love the look of Smeg’s retro refrigerator that we wrote about Here.

Smeg adds to the look with its  free-standing washing machine sink combo.

Washing Machine:

  • 15 washing programs
  • Variable spin speed from 600 up to 1600 rpm
  • Delay timer
  • Max 5 kg of dry laundry
  • steel drum and tank
  • Extra large 300 mm porthole
  • Door safety lock
  • Automatic variable load
  • Self cleaning pump & filter
  • adjustable feet

The washer is available in pink or blue, the only catch is that these are still sold only in Europe!  We’ll have to wait…

A Unique Home Appliance Test Lab

Loading a washing machine may seem like a no-brainer, but the Contra Coasta Times’ Marni Jameson and her family can tell you differently.  Read on:

This week, our home laboratory revealed that a late-model washer would not withstand a cycle of hair-covered saddle pads. Our lab recommends that customers only wash multiple saddle pads — garments that sit between saddle and horse to collect hair — if they want to replace their basements.

Here’s how the experiment was conducted: One teenage daughter stuffed four quilt saddle

pads into a front-load machine. Soon after, the washer sloshed to a halt. I looked through the fisheye door and saw floating garments. I hit the drain/spin cycle. Nothing. The machine wouldn’t drain.I went in search of a neck to wring. The oblivious culprit was on the lam. I headed back to the laundry room where I was verging on a primal scream, when Dan, my husband, walked in. “Problem?” (He’s so intuitive.)

Our smart kids can discuss “The Odyssey” and replicate DNA in a test tube, I tell him, but don’t know not to cram hair-covered saddle pads in the washer.

He left the test center, moaning something about a repairman and $200.

Because $200 could buy one Stuart Weitzman stiletto, I rolled up my sleeves and pulled

on all the machine’s panels until one opened — a trapdoor. Inside was a gizmo, which I twisted. Water gushed in a promising way. A drain!I packed the area with towels, and yanked out the gizmo, a little cage contraption packed with — you’ll never guess — horse hair. I pulled out a wad the size of a Yorkshire terrier, then twisted the gizmo back in to stem the tide. I pressed spin. The machine whirled into action.

Feeling pretty dang proud (Who needs a repairman, or even a man?), I took the terrier to Dan’s basement office.

“You found the problem,” he said.

I fixed the problem, I said, a little too proudly.

Then we both heard an unusual sound. We rounded the corner of his office. I screamed so they could hear me in Taiwan, where workers are making washing machines this minute. Dan raced for a bucket. Water streamed through the basement ceiling, around the recessed lights.

All hands on deck, I shouted usefully.

My innocent daughter grabbed towels and met me in the laundry room, where water spewed from the trapdoor. I grabbed the gizmo, which apparently I hadn’t tightened all the way, (oops) and twisted. The water stopped, but a pond remained.

Later, Dan and I studied the water damage to the ceiling. Wonder what it’s going to cost to repair that, I said.

“More than a washing machine repair,” he said.

Murderous methods

Here are more ways to kill major home appliances, according to our test center and experts from Whirlpool, the world’s leading manufacturer of home appliances:

To kill your washer or dryer:

  • Pour detergent haphazardly into the washing machine. Don’t bother using those pesky cap lines to measure soap, and don’t put detergent in the right dispenser. Too much or the wrong kind of detergent (regular in an HE machine) makes machines work harder, and results in longer cycle times, poorer rinsing performance, and an odorous residue, says Monica Teague, Whirlpool spokeswoman.
  • Don’t check your machine’s hoses and traps. Let lint, missing socks and horse hair accumulate. The upside of a washer that overflows is a clean floor.
  • Don’t ever clean your machine. Leave the job of cleaning a washing machine (with hot water and specially designed cleansers) to phobics who worry that residue from dirty laundry could gum up their machines.
  • Ignore the dryer sign that reads, “Clean before each use.” Wait until the lint filter is so full you could stuff a pillow. Clogged lint traps can burn out a dryer, and even catch fire.
  • Remove the outdoor screen covering your dryer vent or don’t put one in. This creates a nice place for critters to build homes.To kill your oven or range:
  • Throw away your use and care manual. Or start the oven with the manual still inside. Consumers could avoid or resolve more than 50 percent of all appliance problems by reading the instructions, says Steve Swayne, technology leader for Whirlpool’s Institute of Kitchen Science.
  • Spray oven cleaner all over the outside of the appliance. If you’re after that distressed look, you’ll get it. Oven cleaning acid (intended only for oven interiors) can corrode the finish on knobs, and ruin control panels.
  • Run the self-clean cycle with stuff in the oven. The self-clean cycle heats up to 850 degrees, and can destroy pot handles, and cause greasy outdoor grills to catch fire. This cycle also ruins oven racks, which you’re supposed to remove, and keeps them from sliding smoothly.
  • Keep your oven filthy. This will attract bugs and other critters looking for warmth and food. Swayne once found a roasted snake in a range.
  • Samsung’s New 2010 Appliances

    Samsung’s new home appliance product line for 2010 includes a front-loading washer with a spacious 5.0 cu.ft. capacity and a new intense PowerFoam cleaning technology, a new Four-Door Refrigerator with a unique mid-drawer positioned at counter height that opens to the outside and has independent temperature control, a new line of side-by-side refrigerators highlighted by the best in class energy efficiency, and the first hybrid induction range.

    The new washer,  offers a spacious 5.0 cu.ft. capacity to help get more wash done in less time. It also features the newly improved Vibration Reduction Technology Plus, which reduces rattling and noise, making it so  families hardly know they’re on and allowing them to put their laundry machines anywhere they prefer. Samsung hopes to eliminate the need for all those stain-treatment sticks with the new PowerFoam feature that pre-dissolves detergent into powerful foam for a more thorough washing. In addition, PureCycle alerts consumers with a gentle chime after 40 washes and allows consumers to clean their machine with the press of a button using hot water, not harsh chemicals. These are both available in colors stainless platinum or white, and prices range from $1,399-$1,549.

    Samsung’s Four-Door Refrigerator  offers a counter-height FlexZone Drawer with Temperature Control and SmartDivider that is accessible to everyone in the family. The flexible mid-drawer opens separately from the exterior of the refrigerator, ensuring that no cold air is lost from the main refrigerator or freezer compartments. The drawer itself can be temperature-controlled to store different types of food including snacks, party platters, deli meats, or beverages, and the Smart Divider allows families to adjust how the drawer is organized. It’s proprietary Twin Cooling System Plus keeps food  fresh by eliminating odor transfer and maintaining optimal humidity levels in each compartment. It is available in stainless platinum, stainless steel, black and white for $2,699-$2,999.
    Samsung’s new Energy Efficient Side-By-Side Refrigerators, are among the most energy efficient refrigerators on the market. Through a combination of  features such as a proprietary insulation system, electric temperature sensors, LED tower lighting, and Samsung’s Twin Cooling System, the new side-by-side refrigerators can use up to 30 percent less energy than Department of Energy minimum standards. It is available in black, white, stainless steel, stainless platinum for $999-$1,799.

    Recall: GE Front Load Washers Due to Fire and Shock Hazards

    Name of Product: GE Front-Load Washing Machines

    Units: About 181,000

    Manufacturer: GE Appliances & Lighting, of Louisville, Ky.

    Hazard: A wire can break in the machine and make contact with a metal part on the washtub while the machine is operating, posing fire and shock hazards to consumers.

    Incidents/Injuries: GE is aware of seven incidents in which flames escaped the units and caused minor smoke damage. No injuries have been reported.

    Description: This recall involves GE front-load washing machines without auxiliary water heating. Model and serial numbers are listed in the chart below. Recalled washing machines were manufactured between December 2006 and February 2010. The model and serial numbers are located on the bottom right side and on the bottom door frame of the washers.

    Brand Model Number Begins With: Serial Number Begins With:
    GE WBVH5 AM, AR, AS, AT, DM, DR, DS, FM,
    FR, FS, GM, GS, HM, HR, HS, LM,
    LR, LS, MM, MR, MS, RM, RR, RS,
    SM, SR, SS, TM, TR, TS, VM, VR,
    VS, ZL, ZM, ZR, ZS

    Sold at: Department and various retail stores nationwide from December 2006 through May 2010 for about $700.

    Manufactured in: China

    Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled washers, unplug it from the electrical outlet and contact GE for a free repair. Consumers should not operate the washer until it has been repaired.

    Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact GE toll-free at (888) 345-4124 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s website at www.geappliances.com

    Energy Star Credibility

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy recently outlined a new two-step process to strengthen the credibility of the Energy Star brand.

    Step 1: Testing. More aggressive product testing will be required in the future in order to be Energy Star-certified.

    DOE began tests at third-party test labs on six of the most common appliances categories:
    • freezers
    • refrigerator-freezers
    • clothes washers
    • dishwashers
    • water heaters
    • room air-conditioners.
    DOE noted that these appliances account for at least 25% of a typical homeowner’s energy bill. It will test about 200 basic models in the coming months.

    The agencies are also developing a new system to require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in approved labs and require ongoing verification testing.

    Step 2 Enforcement.

    The agencies have taken action against 35 companies in the last 4 months to enforce compliance with Energy Star as well as with DOE’s minimum appliance efficiency standards. A news release details some of the enforcement actions taken in 2009-2010, including:

    • July 2009: Subpoenas issued to AeroSys Inc. to obtain air-conditioner and heat pump documentation.
    • Sept. 2009: AeroSys required to provide product samples for DOE testing to verify models met U.S. federal minimum energy efficiency standards.
    • Dec. 2009: DOE and EPA took steps to remove Energy Star labels from 20 LG refrigerator-freezer models that had been shown, via testing by multiple independent labs, to consume more energy than allowed by Energy Star criteria.
    • Jan. 2010: DOE signed a Consent Decree with Haier regarding actions to address four Haier freezer models, including two Energy Star models, that were consuming more energy than reported.
    • March 2010: EPA terminated its Energy Star relationship with US Inc./US Refrigeration based on a history of logo misuse, unresponsiveness, and failure to comply with program guidelines.

    Other actions addressed problems with lightbulb and showerhead manufacturers.

    The agencies noted that Energy Star violations receive much media attention but account for a small percentage of total products in the program. A recent independent review found 98% compliance.