Clark Howard: Research pays when buying new gadgets

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Listen to Clark's live radio show 8-10 p.m. weekdays on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.

Listen to Clark's live radio show 8-10 p.m. weekdays on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.

Don’t buy another Christmas gift before reading this advice about the best places to buy electronics.

The December 2012 issue of Consumer Reports has new ratings for both traditional retailers and online retailers.

The two online retailers who got the highest score are consistently rated as two of the best: and Meanwhile, and were in a dead heat right behind those two leaders. Trailing behind with much lower scores were and

When it came to physical stores, Costco Wholesale and the Apple store both tied as top contenders. Costco also was named the lowest-cost place for electronics among brick-and-mortar retailers. On the other end of the spectrum, Walmart stunk it up as the worst among physical stores.

The ratings were based on nearly 30,000 purchases of TVs, digital cameras, digital camcorders, DVD and Blu-ray players, GPS devices, video-game consoles, e-book readers, tablets and MP3 players by more than 23,000 people over a recent 18-month period.

Meanwhile, when you get in the store, the nice salesperson will probably push you to buy an extended warranty. I’ve always said don’t do it and Consumer Reports concurs. The math is overwhelming on this point.

During the first three years of ownership, Consumer Reports says the typical failure rate of flat-screen TVs is between 3 percent and 4 percent. Ditto on the typical failure rate of digital cameras during the first 36 months of ownership.

The only electronics category with a significant early failure rate is laptop computers. A lot of that could be user error, (people dropping them). But even so, the failure rate is still on average only 10 percent over three years.

Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website. And get more savings tips from Clark’s previous blog posts.

– Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

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