The Internet has provided many tools for consumers to collaborate and inform each other about good and bad products. Knowing how to make use of those tools will save you a lot of time, effort, and money.
Two of the best tools available are user-submitted product reviews and user ratings. By leveraging user reviews and ratings, you can be sure that you are making an informed decision and will not regret your purchase.
Detailed below is the system I use when searching for the best products or services, and I recommend this to anyone looking to be a thorough and exhaustive consumer:
1. Start with the highest rated products
Always start your search with the highest rated products. This may seem obvious, but by limiting your search to products with high ratings (e.g. greater than 4 out of 5 stars), you dramatically cut down the amount of bad products you must wade through to find the good stuff. The majority of online shopping sites will allow you to sort products based on their overall rating — this is an invaluable tool in your search for the best product.
2. Rank by the highest number of reviews
I consider the number of reviews for a product a weighting mechanism for the rating. If you are familiar with statistics, you know that the larger your sample size is the more accurate your results will be. For example, a 5 star rating from 135 reviewers is of much more value than a 5 star ranking from 1 reviewer. The more people a product is exposed to, the more accurate the rating becomes.
Relying on other people’s experiences is related to the marketing phenomenon called social proof, which states that in the absence of knowledge people will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or more informed. In our case, we have no direct experience with the product we are researching, so we need to rely on the knowledge of the people who have already experienced the product.
High numbers of reviewers also increases your chances of identifying common defects that several people discover, which I will discuss later.
3. Look for lots of good reviews, but only read the bad
Glowing reviews or reviews by fanboys are nice, but they shouldn’t affect your decision much. If someone gives a product a high rating, they obviously like the product; why they like the product is just extra information at this point. “OMG this is the best evar! You should buy it!” – thanks, but that doesn’t help much.
In addition, though I hate to think this happens often, some product manufacturers will “plant” good reviews. So if a review is overly detailed and sounds like a marketing brochure for the product, you are better off ignoring it. The real value comes from the people who leave bad reviews. These people feel burned and want to make their issues known so that others don’t suffer the same misfortunes. Find the bad reviews and look for specific problems or issues that the reviewer had with the product — are these just personal preference issues, or are they speaking about a specific product defect that you should be concerned about?
4. Try to identify common patterns in bad reviews
Often you will be able to find common patterns in bad reviews that point to a specific issue with the product you are considering. If you find that several reviewers are complaining about the same issue it should set off a red flag in your head. For example, if multiple people are reporting that a specific part of a product breaks after so much use, there is obviously a design flaw and you will probably want to avoid this product.
I want to illustrate this step with a real world example. I was recently in the market for a new USB flash drive. I went to NewEgg (my trusted source for computer stuff) and followed the first three steps. That brought me to the CORSAIR Voyager 4GB Flash Drive. This had a 4/5 rating with 159 reviews — not bad so far. However, as I started reading through some of the reviews (specifically, the bad ones), I noticed that several people were having problems with the bulky rubber casing. This was causing connection issues because they couldn’t get the drive fully inserted into their USB port. I have a tight USB area to work with on my computer, so I cut this drive from my list of considerations.
5. Keep an eye out for other product recommendations within reviews
Often times, people will mention other products that they liked in comparison to the product they are reviewing. This is helpful because it taps you into the research work that other people have already done — and can save you a lot of time. This will also make you aware of other good products that may not have been a part of your original set.
I hope you are able to apply this system (or some variation of it) to your own shopping practices. It has worked very well for me and I rarely regret any purchase I make after following these steps.