Shoppers assume that large home improvement stores like Lowe’s (LOW
) and Home Depot (HD
) have the best prices — and they’re often right — but not always.
“In general, the big stores that specialize in home improvement are great resources to save a lot of money on big-ticket items for the home, especially major appliances, lawn and garden equipment and home repair/remodeling products,” says Brent Shelton, a spokesperson for FatWallet.com. Plus, he adds, the salespeople have specialty knowledge, there is a large selection of home improvement items, and these stores’ seasonal prices on many items are often nearly unbeatable, even when comparing them to low-cost, big-box stores like Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) and online sites like Amazon (AMZN) .
Furthermore, savvy shoppers can get even deeper savings with a little legwork. Both Home Depot and Lowe’s have sections of their sites where they list products offering rebates — some saving you hundreds of dollars — and discounts. Plus, carrying a store card (if you’re careful and pay your bill in full and on-time) can yield savings. Lowe’s, for example, has a card offering shoppers 5% off purchases and both stores have cards with 0% financing options, which, can be especially helpful for big-ticket items you need a few months to pay off, assuming you pay the card before that period is up.
And if you’re willing to do research on competitor’s prices and deal with customer service at the store, both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer a price match guarantee that’s among the most competitive in the retail industry. Both say they will beat a local competitor’s prices by 10% if you bring in the local competitor’s current ad, though there is a long list of exclusions to this policy. At Home Depot, for example, it will not beat an online price from a competitor by 10% and the store notes that this offer excludes special orders, bid pricing, volume discounts, open-box merchandise, labor and installation, sales tax, rebate and free offers and more. (Home Depot and Lowe’s did not respond to our request for comment.)
But don’t just assume big home improvement stores are your best bet. For one, your local hardware store will sometimes price match if you ask them to, and they may carry a discount line of goods that competes with those at a large home improvement store, says Shelton. Plus, the service at your local store may feel more personal.
And, the asking prices at home-improvement stores aren’t always great deals. Here are five things that experts say you may be better off buying elsewhere.
While it’s tempting to impulse-purchase cleaning supplies while you’re picking up new paint and some nails at a home improvement store, experts say you should proceed with caution. You could pay 5% to 10% more for brand-name cleaning products at a home improvement store versus a store like Target or Walmart, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Plus, she adds, the big-box stores often have even cheaper generic alternatives.
MarketWatch’s search of online prices in both March and June 2016 for some cleaning items showed this trend to be true in some cases. A gallon of Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner cost nearly $10 on both Lowe’s and Home Depot’s sites, while it was less than $8.50 on Walmart.com; a three-pack, 105-count of Clorox wipes cost nearly $7 at Lowe’s , and wasn’t available at Home Depot, while it was on special at Target for less than $5 in March and regularly priced at less than $6.
“While home decor is certainly related to home improvement, consumers should shop elsewhere for deals on wall art and other decorative items,” says Kendal Perez here, a savings expert with CouponSherpa.com, who recommends purchasing these products at shops like TJMaxx (TJX) , Ross (ROST) and HomeGoods. Among the examples Perez found: A roughly 18×18 framed piece of art titled the “Puffball Floral A” was priced at roughly $31 at Home Depot, compared to Kmart’s (SHLD) price of $22.49 (in March) and $24.99 (in June) for the same piece. Adds Shelton: “Rugs, furniture, picture frames, wall art, etc. are limited and often cheap in quality but not cheap in price unless on clearance at home improvement stores, and tend to be basic, and limited for style selection, as well.”
While there are sales at home-improvement stores that can give you great deals on small appliances, you may be better off getting the item at a warehouse club like Costco(COST) or Sam’s, says Coupons.com savings expert, Jeanette Pavini, who also writes for MarketWatch. “Around the holidays, warehouse clubs typically stock more small appliances and prices are extremely competitive,” she says. (Though, buyers beware: Warehouse clubs don’t always have the best selection at any given time on these items). You may also often find good deals at big-box stores and online, Shelton says.
A couple of examples: In March, at Costco online, the Danby 0.7 cubic-foot stainless steel microwave was priced at $49.99, while it was $60.77 on Home Depot’s site; at Lowe’s the Kitchenaid 9-cup food processor in contour silver costs $179.99 but on Amazon it is only $143.68 (interestingly, the fire engine red version of this product is the same price on both sites).
Often, “grill accessories are better priced at TJMaxx and HomeGoods compared to Home Depot and Lowe’s, and Amazon also beats their prices in some cases,” says Perez. For example, in March, a Chef Buddy 20-Piece Stainless Steel Grill Tool Set with Case was priced at $35.22 from Home Depot on Monday, compared to $24.95 from Amazon; a Blackstone 6-Piece Grilling Tool Set was priced at $29.99 from Lowe’s, compared to $29.46 from Amazon.
Home improvement stores often make it simple to grab a box or two of batteries, but beware: You may be able to find better deals elsewhere, experts say. In fact, “the best place to buy batteries is at a warehouse store like Costco,” says Woroch. “Otherwise, Walmart is your next best option if you’re in a pinch.”
Marketwatch found evidence to support that: While Costco was selling a 40-battery, 2-pack of AA Duracells for $14.99 (less than 38 cents per battery) in March, Home Depot’s battery offerings for Duracell AA were limited to a 10-pack selling at $7.98 (nearly 80 cents per battery) and Lowe’s was selling a 24-pack for $12.47 (nearly 52 cents per battery).
This story has been updated and was originally published in March 2016.
Catey Hill covers personal finance and travel for MarketWatch in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.