Sitting in the stands at a baseball game the day after Steve Jobs’ surprise resignation from Apple, of course the subject came up.
“I wish I knew how Apple does it,” I said.
A month ago, I was looking to buy a fridge and a washer and a dryer. My family came in to help me.
Mostly I got frustrated. I went into Sears and liked their prices, and the salesperson offered six months’ free financing. But you never buy the first place you look. We went to a Maytag dealer. The salesperson was extremely nice and helpful and offered me a year of free financing, but the prices were high. I had checked Best Buy a few days before. Pricing was comparable to Sears, and they offered their standard six-month free financing, but I could save a little at Sears by buying Kenmore, which was being made by Whirlpool last month.
I decided that for the price difference, I could go to Sears and pay off the appliances in half the time. So we went back. The salesperson who had helped me was gone. I told another salesperson I’d need financing. He offered me rates that were comparable to a typical exploitative rent-to-own joint. “It’s just 1.9 percent a month,” he said.
A 22.8 percent APR? In this day and age? With my credit rating? You’ve got to be kidding me. I might as well just put it on the Discover card I already have and avoid having yet another credit check done. Or watch the mail for a card with a really low introductory rate, for that matter. I told the guy that earlier in the day I could have gotten free financing. He said that must have been a mistake. I told him I wasn’t interested and left him with a half-filled-out ticket.
By then I wasn’t in the mood to go spend four figures on a bunch of stuff and have to deal with delivery arrangements. So I went home and took a nap. I closed on the house. I started moving. The appliances task sat. And sat.
A week ago, I mentioned to some friends that I still needed to go buy my big appliances.
“Gas or electric dryer?” one of my friends asked.
“Gas,” I said.
“You want one?” she asked.
“You’re trying to get rid of one?” I asked.
“It came with my house. It’s not very old but I had a set that was less than a year old, so I wanted mine. So it’s just sitting in my basement. Yours,” she said.
Nice. That saved me at least 300 bucks. Good things come to those who drag their feet.
So last night I went into Best Bait-n-Switch to try my luck. I couldn’t remember if the dryer she was giving me was a Whirlpool or a Frigidaire. A lot of people want a matching set, but I don’t care much about that. Look at my stereo: My receiver is a JVC and my CD changer is a Sony. And nobody’s going to look at my washer and dryer.
The salesman said he saw fewer returns on Whirlpools and that Whirlpool customer service was easier to deal with. Pricing was comparable. Unfortunately, you never know with this place whether he was being sincere or whether Whirlpool was running some kind of incentive to move inventory. I remember in my retail days it seemed like there was a promotion with some vendor or another every month. I still remember my manager sitting us down at a meeting one day. “IBMs are the best. I don’t know why,” she said. “Make up something. They’re running a promotion this month.”
I’d spotted a $379 Frigidaire washer on the Web. Whirlpool didn’t have a direct equivalent, but there was a $399 Whirlpool that had better features. And then there was a $459 Maytag, discounted to $429, that had more features still. And it was a Maytag. Maybe I should have stuck to my guns and bought the Frigidaire. But I bought the Maytag.
Then I went and looked at refrigerators. He started me out in the $699 aisle. But the fridge in my first apartment was a bottom-end model that didn’t even work right. The fridge in my current apartment is a bottom-end GE that does work. I could buy the same thing for 350 bucks and be content with it, if not happy. Mom’s been trying to talk me into an icemaker. So I told the guy I wanted a fridge that had an icemaker, or could have one added.
There was a $399 Frigidaire that fit the bill. Very basic. But it was everything I needed, really. I glanced over at the fridges next to it. There was a $499 model that had nicer shelves, a third drawer, and all the drawers were clear. I liked it better. I’ll like having clear drawers. I have this nasty habit of buying produce, putting it in a drawer, and then forgetting I bought it. A couple of months later, I remember. So clear drawers will save me some big money over the life of the fridge.
There was a $459 model that had a third drawer but didn’t have the nice shelves. And then there was a $429 model. It had the nice shelves and clear drawers (three of them) and everything else I wanted. I couldn’t understand why it was priced lower. The salesman didn’t know why it was priced lower. I bought it.
I skipped the extended warranties. Ask the salespeople about the warranty terms sometime and then ask the customer service people. You’ll get different stories from them. I learned that the hard way about 10 years ago. A lot of it is discretionary. Why should you pay $100 per appliance to get to go to different stores and talk to different people until you get what you want? It’s better to pay a little extra to get equipment that’s less likely to need service in the first place, which is what I did in the case of the washer. Losing a fridge is a bigger deal, but I also know it isn’t all that common.
Then I asked about financing. He said 12 months, interest-free. Nice. I’ll take it. I filled out the application, got everything in order, and then I got the bait-and-switch, in the form of the magical words “unadvertised special.” How about 18 months of interest-free financing?
Good things come to those who drag their feet.