Buying Smart: Consumer Review Sites

 

Review Sites
Review sites can be a Godsend, but even here, it’s caveat emptor.

As I boldly claimed on the Start Here page when I was first establishing this site, with the wealth of information currently available on the Internet, there is no excuse for not informing yourself about consumer purchases before plunking down your money.  Consumer reviews on the Internet are a great place to get customers’ honest opinions about products, right?  Well, as I came to realize, no.  Honest, independent consumer reviews seem to be another thing that the Internet has given and then, for the chance to make a quick buck, taken away.  When looking up opinions and reviews online, it’s definitely caveat emptor.

To select the sites I discuss in this post, I started with the Top20Sites.com’s Top Consumer Review Sites list.  To be honest, I didn’t get all that far before I realized that I was wasting my time.  Maybe this list was put together poorly, or maybe most of the consumer review sites out there are garbage; it’s hard to say.  At any rate, a lot of the sites on that list are not what they first appear.  At the end of this post, I’ll tell you which review site I trust the most, and why.

NB: I have mentioned four sites in this review, but have NOT provided links to all of them.  I see no reason to help these shysters’ rankings.

Consumer Review .org

This is a network that encompasses a total of nine review websites that focus primarily on three segments: consumer electronics, sports & recreation, and automotive.  The names of some of the sites are: carreview .com, computingreview .com, and outdoorreview .com.  At the outdoorreview site, I poked around for about 10 minutes, and despite finding fairly long lists of products, I couldn’t find a single review. (I’m not saying that there aren’t any, just that I couldn’t find any.)  What I did find was lots of links to products that I could buy.  How conveeeeeeenient!

On the roadbikesreview .com site, there were reviews, but the ratings were almost universally high.  One bike, after having been reviewed by 31 people, had an average rating of 4.52 out of five.  OK, maybe it’s a great bike, but that kind of result is quite common on this site.  To be fair, there are a few negative reviews, but the overwhelming majority of the reviewers are falling over themselves singing the praises of these bikes.

The real problem comes on the main site, consumerreviews .com, where Sales Manager, Jim Thomas, writes about companies getting “the best value for [their] advertising dollar”.

Consumer Reviews are the last thing on these guys' minds.
Site name notwithstanding, consumer reviews are the last thing on these guys’ minds.

Clearly, this is a fine example of a site (well, actually, a network of sites) presenting itself one way to the consumer, and another way to sellers.  While pretending to be custodians of unbiased reviews, they in fact have a very clear and strong (i.e. monetary) motivation to ensure that the product reviews on their sites are seen in the best light possible.  Consumer reviews are the last thing on these guys’ minds.  Stay away.

Consumer Ratings .net

This site is in the same vein as the one above.  It is really just an affiliate site for Amazon.  There are hundreds of products listed, without a single review in site.  (Although there is room for reviews, so maybe some day…)

The “Buyer’s Guide” (quotes indicate sarcasm in this case) provides such useful gems as:

Air mattresses are something that come in various sizes and varieties. Thus, when the person is looking to buy an air mattress, they are going to find that an air mattress buyers guide is something that they should be checking out.

What?!? The complete review is longer, but no more helpful.

Anyway, enough about these jokers.

ConsumerSearch.com

The intent of the owners of this site seems to be to provide a genuine, useful, truthful service to their users, and is the best site so far, but is also not without its problems.  First, the good: The Buyer’s Guides that are on the site are thoughtfully written, and provide a consumer with a list of features and/or options to consider when looking at buying an item.  This can be a useful starting place when you’re considering buying an item that you’re unfamiliar with.  Next, both the positive and negative aspects of items are discussed in their reviews.  I see this as a good sign that they are considering all aspects of the reviews they are reporting on.

Now for the not-so-good.  These guys get full points for honesty and integrity, but the fact of the matter is that consumersearch.com is a collection of other people’s reviews; the reviews are not from the site itself.  In their FAQ’s. they explain some of the factors they consider when deciding how much weight to give a particular opinion they read online.  This shows that they haven’t simply written a program to collect all reviews, but eyeballs are actually looking at the opinions before they are reported.  So, again, points for doing their best to provide a truthful and helpful service, but the fact remains that they are reporting the opinions of others.  Not having actually bought or used the products themselves, they are ultimately relying on the judgement and integrity of others.

ConsumerReports.com

Disclosure: I have been a paying customer of Consumer Reports for close to a decade.

Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports is in a class by itself.  They (anonymously) buy and test a very impressive range of consumer items, from kitchen appliances to cars.  You can see the vigour of their testing procedures in the videos accessible from their How We Test page.  Equally as important, Consumer Reports guards both its independence and the perception of its independence fiercely.  Their No Commercial Use policy “prevent[s] the use of [their] name and information for any promotional or advertising purposes.”

There is only one drawback to Consumer Reports, and that is that it is a pay site.  The current subscription rate is $30 US per year, or $6.95 US per month.  Subscribers to the print magazine get a discounted rate of $20 US.  Being a penny pincher by nature, and very suspicious of recurring charges, I am usually loathe to buy any product on a subscription model, but Consumer Reports is one of the exceptions.  My extended family has one shared account, so we can all make use of the subscription.  Also, the mistakes that Consumer Reports has saved me from has always more than covered the annual subscription price.

The only beef I have with this site is that the subscription renews itself annually unless you remember to explicitly cancel your membership.  I find this practice questionable at the best of times, and even more so with an organization that is meant to serve the interests of the consumer.  Irony, anyone?

The arena of consumer reviews seems to be another case of getting what you pay for.  My honest opinion is that Consumer Reports would be worth it even if they were to double the price.  (Although if they did, I would be the first one to send them an angry email!)

What review sites have you found that you know and trust?

 

4 thoughts on “Buying Smart: Consumer Review Sites”

  1. I’m generally wary of any review site because I know the rankings and reviews can be easily manipulated. I worked in the hotel industry and saw the effect that TripAdvisor and Travelocity/Expedia reviews had on the reputation of your hotel. They have systems in place to detect phony reviews, but it’s not perfect.

    Amazon reviews can also be manipulated – any author or product seller is going to tell his or her friends and family to give them 5 star reviews and great comments.

    Product manufacturers often display reviews but I’d imagine they just delete the bad ones. I’ve never seen a bad review for an LG TV on the LG website, for example.

    For that reason I think it’s worthwhile to pay for Consumer Reports and get the truly unbiased and well researched product reviews. If you don’t want to pay $30 a year then you’re betting that your good judgement will save you from buying a lemon.

    Companies like Home Depot and Canadian Tire show product reviews, and they might be legit and honest, who knows? I bought a bbq and looked at the reviews on Home Depot – they accurately explained that the 20 minutes it says it will take to assemble the bbq will be more like 2-3 hours.

    The retailers probably have less incentive to manipulate product reviews because they don’t have to stand behind the brand, unless it’s their own (i.e. MasterCraft).

    1. I’ve always been impressed with the Canadian Tire reviews. I’ve found lots of negative product reviews that have caused me to change my plans to buy something or other. That may sound like a negative, but the result is that when I find positive reviews, I feel can trust them.

      It seems to me that there was a similar-type company that used to bury the negative reviews below the positive reviews, but I just took a quick look, and they don’t seem to be doing that now. So, either they have changed their ways, or I don’t remember correctly (which is why I don’t want to name the company).

      I can see how (small) business owners would have fear of review sites. One unreasonable loudmouth can do a lot of damage.

      As for Amazon, wasn’t there a bit of a scandal a while ago? Professional rave reviewers or something?

    1. Hi Annie,
      I just checked, and my local public library does indeed allow me access to Consumer Reports. After I sign in, I have digital access to the print version. Thanks for the tip!

      The CR website is set up as, well, a website, so it’s faster and easier to research a specific product. I would say that the version available through the library is probably more suited to casual browsing than a specific, focused search, which is best done on the website.

      I guess the “better” version depends on your particular purpose at a particular time, although the “free” part of the version you mention is definitely appealing!

      -Jeff

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