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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| May 18, 2017
For DIYers like myself, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: home-improvement season. Spring is a heady time for fixing up the old homestead and tending the estate. But a conundrum ensues: Lowe’s or Home Depot?
I admit it. I like Lowe’s, and not just because it’s closer to my house. My experience has been that customer service is better at Lowe’s. There are plenty of Home Depot fans, too. Both home-improvement retailers offer a massive selection. And Home Depot has more stores nationwide than Lowe’s.
So where does Lowe’s excel, and where is it just plain ordinary? I decided to investigate. Here’s what I found:
The Lowe’s team has wide latitude for offering lower prices to customers who want to haggle, especially on open-box or damaged-box merchandise, slightly damaged products, and floor models. Check shelf tags first, then corral one of the nearby red-vested Lowe’s employees to see if you can get a lower price. Start at 20%. Negotiate from there, if necessary.
At Lowe’s, some floor models are already marked for discount to make room for newer lines. Other floor models aren’t marked for discount, but you may still get one if you ask.
On this score, most online deals experts agree: They like Lowe’s, especially for purchases of floor models or bundled products, such as washers and dryers or kitchen groupings.
Major retailers often get better deals from major manufacturers because they buy in bulk. Then they pass those savings on to customers. Lowe’s is no exception.
I wish I had known about this a couple of years ago, when we upgraded our kitchen with a new suite of GE Profile stainless-steel appliances—a refrigerator, a dishwasher, a stove and a built-in microwave. We got a good deal at a high-end regional appliance store chain (which, by the way, gets the nod of Consumer Reports, which says the deals are better at local and regional large appliance dealers). But we might have gotten a better deal at Lowe’s, says Brent Shelton, of the deals site FatWallet.
For example, Lowe’s is currently offering rebates of $400 to $1,200 on four or more qualifying GE Profile appliances or select other GE appliances. You can apply for that rebate check at Lowes.com’s “current rebates” page.
I researched prices on some small kitchen appliances and found consistently lower prices at other retailers. (One bright spot: Lowe’s offers a wider range of small appliances online than in its brick-and-mortar stores.)
Some examples: A KitchenAid Professional 600 Series Six-Quart 10-Speed Nickel Pearl Countertop Stand Mixer was priced at $449.99 at Lowe’s (and Home Depot). You could buy the same thing for nearly $100 less at Wal-Mart, which priced the mixer at $339.99.
A Black & Decker Six-Slice Silver Convection Toaster Oven with Auto Shut-Off was priced at $57.51 at Lowe’s. Amazon offered the same appliance for $52.00. Wal-Mart was even cheaper, selling the toaster oven for $47.74.
Finally, a Cuisinart Grind and Brew 12-Cup Black and Chrome Programmable Coffeemaker was selling recently for $159.00 at Lowe’s. Amazon offered it at $154.00 (if you’re a Prime member, you get free shipping). Wal-Mart was selling it for $153.95, plus an additional $5.70 discount if you order online and pick it up at a Wal-Mart store.
You don’t have to. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot often offer their best sales prices when demand is high.
For example, mid to late spring is an especially bountiful time for Lowe’s giant home-and-garden centers, as I discovered on a recent trip. It’s also the right time for you to buy lawn mowers, mulch, plants and other garden supplies. In-season—not off-season--is “when we see the most discounts, coinciding with good weather,” says Benjamin Glaser, of DealNews, an online deals site.
Did you ever wander down the aisle of a big-box retail store featuring household cleaning supplies and wonder: Am I missing something? Are these prices really that good?
At Lowe’s, yes—they’re better than at Target, as I discovered in late January, when on assignment for Kiplinger.com, I scouted 15 randomly chosen everyday household cleaning supplies. Note: These were full prices and didn’t reflect any sales or manufacturers’ coupons, which Target accepts. In some cases, packaging sizes were different, so we compared per-unit prices.
For nine of the 15 items, Lowe’s prices were lower; usually not by much, but a penny saved is a penny earned. Some examples: A 24-pack of Duracell AA batteries sold for $14.67 (or 61 cents per battery) at Lowe's, versus 70 cents per battery for a 20-pack at Target. On the other hand, Target scored by selling Dawn 34.2-fluid-ounce dishwashing liquid for $4.09, while Lowe’s was selling it for $4.78.
You don’t need to be a contractor to get professional prices at Lowe’s. I saved a bundle when I decided to replace all the electrical outlets and wall light switches on the main level of my house. (The old ones had been painted over by a previous homeowner. Yuck.)
Typically, a DIYer might go to Lowe’s to buy just one switch or outlet. I needed 13, and I started off with a “contractor”-size bulk pack of 10 Legrand 15-amp, 125-volt outlets for $10, saving 16% over what I would have paid if I’d purchased them individually.
Other examples: I have a relative who owns a lakefront seasonal home he and his family have been upgrading using their own labor. Utilizing contractor prices at Lowe’s, they could add insulation and roof shingles at significant savings. A bundle of Owen Corning AtticCat R60 pink blown-in insulation sells for $33.98. But buy 30 and the contractor price per pack dips to $23.79, saving $305.70 over the regular price (and you can borrow the machine used to blow in the insulation at no additional cost). Also: Bundles of Timberline HD Weathered Wood roof shingles sell for $32. The contractor price is $25.60 per bundle, with a minimum of 36 bundles. The savings is $230.40.
Other contractor-pack items include bulk purchases of furnace filters, painting supplies, light bulbs and more. Look for the yellow shelf tag stating contractor prices in bulk. Savings are marked on that sticker as well.
“I get pro discounts all the time,” says Saeed Darabi, of the money-saving website MoneyPantry. How? He asks for them at the Pro Desk near the checkout in the lumber area, where most contractors pay and load up. Savings can be 10%-20%.
Deals experts say it’s best to check the retailer’s website before you leave the house. Or you can find daily deals by following @lowes on Twitter. I like the Lowe’s “savings” webpage. For example, it recently featured 41% off a Sharp stainless-steel countertop microwave oven, on sale for $99, slashed from $169.
The website will even tell you if the merchandise is available at your nearest or favorite Lowe’s (in my case, there were two microwaves; the website even told me where they were in the store: Aisle 33, Bay 1).
I did a comparison. The price for the same microwave at Best Buy was $170.
While you’re in the store, check online prices on your smartphone. Do you see a lower price for a particular item on Lowe’s website? No worries. The store will match the Lowe’s website price.
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