Online Reviews & Purchasing Decisions

One of the questions I get asked all the time is, “Which (fill-in-the-blank-tech-device) should I buy?” This is a tricky question. In many cases comparable models are made of parts from the same manufacturers. This means there is no clear cut “best.” Cost differences are usually related to the quality of internal parts, optional capabilities, software, support, and customer service. Adding to the confusion is the fact that we can’t trust online reviews.

Here are a few tips to help get you through the remainder of the holiday season when it comes to purchasing technology.
  1. Stick with trusted brands (or name brands)! - Brands that have been around for a while have an established reputation and user base that they are generally trying to maintain.
  2. Do your homework, especially if you take a chance on a lesser known or cheaper brand! Use companies, reviewers, and websites that you trust to help inform your decisions (examples: Consumer Reports, CNET, TechCrunch). Check out bloggers, podcasters, and youtubers who report on products. Shop in-store so you can ask questions like; “Do they get a lot of returns for a particular product;” and “Which products do the employees buy.”
  3. Know your return policies! If it is a gift, you might want to consider opening the box, charging, and testing it to make sure it works. One Christmas season I had three disappointed young boys who had to wait 6 weeks to get their gift back from the manufacturer. It could have been avoided if we had tested the product when we bought it.
  4. Finally, understand online reviews. Forbes estimated that up to 70% of Amazon reviews are fake. Buzzfeed interviewed a paid reviewer regarding her “fake” reviews. I personally know four people who receive free products for reviews, just very similar to the Buzzfeed article. The Financial Times made a decent short video regarding how fake reviews affect buyers and sellers. 

Online reviews can still be useful, but you should have certain checks and balances in place. Here are some great questions to ask yourself before trusting an online review:

  • Are there other sites with the same product and do the reviews match?
  • Are the reviews specific or generic?
  • Do the reviews talk more about the seller or product?
  • Are there specific common complaints with the product and am I willing to deal with those complaints?
  • How many reviews have been left for the product?

Even with the tips above, we can still find ourselves in a store looking at what might be a stellar deal! Here are the steps I take before making that purchase:

  • Pull out my smartphone and compare review sites. Are they all similar? Are there a lot of reviews?
  • See if I can find some trusted reviews that specifically state whether a product does what I want it to or if there are known limitations.
  • Know my options and values. Return policies, human support, quality, and manufacturing locations are all things to consider with cost. If there is a business that is particularly helpful to me, then I make it a priority to support that business, even if the cost is slightly higher. Companies want to build trust, leverage that!

Hopefully the steps above can help you when you are making purchasing decisions this holiday season and into the future!

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