A Tale Of Two Dishwashers

Why Anchoring and Limiting Choice & Criteria Matter

It was a weekday evening in early September. We’d loaded our faithful 12-year-old dishwasher and then, it happened. The lights started flashing mercilessly, the universal signal of cardiac arrest for any major appliance these days.

We tried turning the breaker on and off, since that had worked for our washing machine—and still does—but to no avail. The dishwasher’s motherboard was shot and we’d have to deal with it. 

I’ll admit that having just recently come back from a trip to the third world didn’t hurt in making the hunt for a solution to this small "first-world problem" feel like a cake walk. I mean, woe is us…we'd have to wash dishes by HAND!

Being mechanically inclined, my husband inquired about changing the motherboard. The cost? $200. It seemed an unnecessary gamble, given that appliances are known now to be far more capricious than in decades past. Instead, we opted to shop for a replacement but what we didn’t expect was to [re]learn the benefits of being able and willing to be flexible in making a decision, having the cash on hand to take advantage of deals, and the importance of setting your own guidelines when making decisions.

The secret to happiness is low expectations.
— Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

The shopping experience

Here’s what we knew:

As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes tyranny of choice…we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating, not constraining.
— Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice
  • Price: this was going to be the deciding factor. Given our last dishwasher had been in the $400 range, that's what we were looking to spend. Indeed, we were pleasantly surprised that the prices had remained flat for over a decade. 
  • Appliance features: 
    • We had a basic, no frills, tall tub Maytag and liked the dishwasher’s interior design. We wanted to maintain the ability to have a new model handle the many pots and pans associated with cooking a great deal of our meals from scratch. 
    • We’d been happy with the basic wash/dry options (Who really uses more than a few settings anyway?)
    • Oh, and we wanted the black or stainless steel finish to match the rest of our kitchen appliances. (Chances were we would end up with black, given they were usually $50 or so less than the stainless steel option.)
  • New or used: We definitely wanted new, given the lifespan and hassle associated with replacing kitchen appliances. That said, we never have an issue with floor models (our washer & dryer were floor models, as was our fridge). You get an automatic 10-20% reduction in cost and they work just as well and look just as good.
  • Shopping method: We were fine with online or bricks & mortar shopping, as long as it was convenient and we got a good look at the appliance (inside and out).
  • Timing: We'd be doing dishes by hand until the right deal came along. We were in no rush and were happy to take the time it took to find what we were comfortable with.
  • Delivery & installation: We had the means to pick it up and install it ourselves, so not much of a decision there.
  • Warranty: We self-insure all our purchases. Warranties are a joke. Don't buy them!
  • Payment: We'd be paying for it up front (using our WestJet RBC credit card for the points, but we pay it off monthly).
There are some strategies you can use to help you avoid the disappointment that comes from thinking about opportunity costs: 1. Unless you’re truly dissatisfied, stick with what you always buy. 2. Don’t be tempted by ‘new and improved’....
— Barry Schwartz - The Paradox of Choice

We'd found a basic Maytag as a potential replacement, though we'd considered Frigidaire, Kenmore, LG and Samsung just for kicks. We decided we'd stick with Maytag, because we'd been happy with our previous purchase.

Our search involved browsing the following retailer sites regularly: Sears, Home Depot, Amazon, Lowe’s, Costco, Best Buy, Leon’s, The Brick, Future Shop, and Midland Appliances.

Here’s what we found:

  • Stores are focused on up-selling you to a mid-range brand by featuring discounts on this category of machines (mid-range seem to be priced from $800 to $1,500).
  • Low-end options are reasonably priced at $400 - $800 but both retail and online stores are out of stock for the most part and there's a wait time of 2 to 4 weeks to get your appliance.
  • Many online stores push for home delivery when selling out-of-stock lower end models, at a cost of $50 to $75, depending on the retailer.
  • If you're choosing to finance (you know, the 0%, don’t pay for a year deals), you're not offered potential additional discounts for online purchases.

So what did we end up doing?

Well, we nearly misfired by purchasing the basic Maytag for:

Retail cost: $399.95 (reg. $499.95)

Warranty: $0.00

Tax: $51.99

Delivery*: $50.00

Total: $501.94 CDN

*Delivery cost was automatically added because the product shipped directly from the manufacturer and we'd be facing a 1-month wait to boot.

Overall, not that bad, given it was within our bookends and we knew we'd be satisfied with the model. But, with that kind of a wait, we felt we could do better and at least this had given us a benchmark (aka anchor) to improve upon.

Based on experience, we’ve found that the first “solution” is often not the best one and that the fear of “losing a good deal” can easily blind us from something better just around the corner. So, we rolled the dice and it paid off to the tune of $118.70!

The better way

We changed our approach. Instead of looking at basic models, we looked at all Maytag models in the price range we wanted. And by price range, I don’t mean the regular price, of course, but the all-in price, which includes sale price, discounts, shipping and taxes. We determined that our previous range was reasonable at $350 to $500, with the top end having been set as the anchor** by our initial option. We just knew we'd be looking for better by widening our scope to whatever came our way.

Side Note: If you enjoyed the quotes and want more information on the concept of anchoring, avoiding disappointment, managing how we handle choice when we shop, and more, I recommend reading The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz.

This new approach did two things for us: it gave us a wider range of Maytags to consider and it provided opportunities for better deals because we were shopping by price and nothing else at that point.

Enter stage left: the Maytag JetClean Plus With Integrated Controls offered at Leon’s online:

Retail cost: $399.00 (reg. $700.00)

Discount (15%)**: $59.85

Protection: $0.00

Tax & Fees: $44.09

Delivery***: $0.00

Total: $383.24 CDN

**Thanks to an online promotion, non-financed appliances purchased online received an additional 15% discount. Woohoo! 

***Delivery cost was zero because we accepted to have it delivered to a local warehouse for pickup. It was a floor model and would, therefore, not come from the manufacturer. Phew!

The result

After no more than 4 to 5 hours of work (including daily checks for end-of-production clear outs at the sites listed above), we ended up with a mid-range appliance for less than the low-end version on sale by being persistently opportunistic and ready to buy at the right time, cash in hand.

What did we score?

A sleek stainless steel model with the interior layout and basic options we wanted and more. 

We picked up the dishwasher a week after having ordered it, despite being fine with a longer wait for the right price. We've been using the dishwasher for just under three weeks now and so far so good. 

Unexpected bonus: Having no dishwasher made us appreciate the luxury of having one available. That being said though, we found that doing dishes by hand was no big deal and we’ve kept doing some of them by hand, though we leave the big stuff to our capable new purchase.

hat about you? How do you shop for big purchases? Any tips or tricks to make the experience a good one and avoid disappointment or buyer's remorse?

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