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Research Products

Probably one of the first things you'll do when buying is some product research. You see something for a good price or find the perfect widget or gift, but take a moment to find out some more about it before clicking the BUY button.

Online Reviews

Google helpfully suggests common searches including reviews
Google helpfully suggests common searches including reviews

The first step to finding a review is to simply search for your product name (Honda Odyssey in my case) using a major search engine. As of the writing of this article, Google helpfully shows common searches that might be what you're looking for in a drop down with a count of results for those terms.

You can try looking at the website names that the pages are hosted on to stick with bigger name reviewers (autos.yahoo.com for example), but I find it useful to try a bunch of different sites to get a variety of information.

The key is to find reviews that cover the good and the bad. In other words, if a review has nothing negative to say about a product, it's probably not that the product really is the best thing in the universe, but rather that the author is biased or it's an ad disguised as a review (for example, most Lifelock reviews).

Customer Reviews

Some of the most valuable information I have ever found on a product came from the comments left by people who've actually bought it.

Reviews from the people who actually bought it.
Reviews from the people who actually bought it.

The first thing to keep in mind when reading user supplied comments is that there are two kinds to ignore:

  1. Fake Reviews – It's a fact that many companies will stoop to leaving fake "customer reviews" for their competitor's product to discourage people from buying it. The way to tell if a negative review is worth anything is to see how consistently you hear the same negative information and from where. Also, copy about 10 words from the review and paste it to a search engine. If you find many sites with the exact same phrase, it's probably a plant.
  2. Retaliation Reviews – Some people are really ticked about one thing or another and choose to take it out by leaving a horrible product review (even if it was just a customer service issue). You can usually tell these ones when they start going into how bad the store itself was or if they say things that don't mean anything like "The worst. It stunk!"

Other than those, you can get immensely useful information by reading the user comments.

Online Forums

Forums are some of the best places to research and get information. If there's a web forum dedicated to the product you plan to buy (and there almost always is), asking the dedicated forum posters there can net you great information very quickly.

For example, if you're trying to compare two or three different digital cameras, the people in digitalcamerareview.com forums would be very helpful. to quickly and easily find a forum for the product type you need, just do a Google search for the type of product and "inurl:forum". This looks for any webpage that mentions your product and also has the word "forum" in the url (usuall a forum for that product).

Find a forum for pretty much anything using this trick.
Find a forum for pretty much anything using this trick.

Before signing up and getting posting, check to make sure it's an active forum. To do this, just look at the last post date for some of the categories and see if they're recent. The more areas that are actively updated, the more likely you'll get a quick and useful response.

Check to see that it's an active forum before bothering to post (click to enlarge)
Check to see that it's an active forum before bothering to post (click to enlarge)

If it looks like a dead forum, maybe try backing up and finding another option instead.

If you like to keep your money and safe yourself the trouble and hassle of getting nailed by a bad or fraudulent retailer online, you need to learn to identify them before it's too late.
Before you buy anything, utilize the vast power of the Internet to research products and pick the best one possible.
You're about to pay for something, but what's the safest way to do it?

Related Guide

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