Finding the Best Stuff
Whether for the classroom or for home, we all make hundreds of product purchases each year. In many cases we've found items that work well, but for many other purchases, we have no idea what to buy or where to start. There are too many options and it's not always clear how to compare things. Which pencil sharpener is built to last? Which sunblock is best for kids? Where can I buy a good mattress for under $1000? What features does this product have that others don't? It's all very confusing, and marketers take advantage of this confusion and profit greatly from it. There's a better way.
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll focus less on technology and more on the "thrifty" end of things. I pride myself in getting a good deal, and, over the years, I've become quite good at it. Frequently, friends, family and colleagues ask me to help them find specific items at a discount online. So, for the next two weeks, we'll focus on getting the most bang for your buck. This week, I'll share my secrets about finding the best products. Next week, I'll tell you how to get the lowest price on the great stuff you find - because you might as well get the best you can for the money you spend.
Relying on the advise of experts is the easiest way to find out which product is the best. Review websites are a good place to start. The problem is sorting through all of them. There are a million review sites, but many aren't all that good. Let me make this easy for you. This week, I'll share some of my favorite product review sites- most of which are FREE. I think you'll find them all to be informative as well as quick and easy to use.
If you are starting a wedding registry, or need to replace a household item, Sweethome it THE review site for household goods. I love this site for a variety of reasons. First, their research and testing are ridiculously thorough. They rely on experts for advise in each category. Second, they generally narrow the search to end at one "best" product. This makes getting a great "tried and true" product super easy to do. For those not willing to pay the top dollar, there is often a "discount" or "budget" item that will serve you well. Third, their collection of reviews is comprehensive. They have reviews on every thing from tents, to solar panels to interior paint. Finally, they publishwonderful gift guides around the holidays that are really well curated and full of only the best products.
Check out a few reviews for the following items: Water Bottles, Manual Razors, The Best Sunscreen, Lawn Sprinkler, Back to School Supplies, Laptop Backpacks and Travel Coffee Mugs.
I should note that Sweethome, like most review sites, is a for profit company. While there are very few direct advertisements, they clearly state on their main page that they earn a portion of all sales directed through the site. While this has the potential to sway reviews, I have not seen any explicit bias. You can find a great description of their process and philosophy here.
Tech: CNET and Wirecutter
CNET and Wirecutter are my first choice in finding great reviews on any type of technology. CNET has probably the most comprehensive collection of reviews and videos about consumer electronics. Chances are, if you google your item plus the word "review," CNET will top the list. Wirecutter is the techy brother of Sweethome, so it too narrows down choices to one best option, is ridiculously thorough in its research, and provides great gift guides during the holidays. While CNET does not profit from sales through its site, Wirecutter does. Even though they are completely independent of each other, I've often found that if one site recommends a certain technology, the other will usually do the same. Check out these reviews and see how they compare for yourself:
Streaming Devices on CNET
Streaming Devices on Wirecutter
Chromebooks on CNET
Chromebooks on Wirecutter
Smart Thermostats on CNET
Smart Thermostats on Wirecutter
Big Purchases: Consumer Reports
After some substantial water damage to my home this past spring, my wife and I had to make a variety of large scale purchases. This included appliances, flooring, countertops and cabinetry. Having not purchased many of these things before, we started shopping around and found that comparing these larger purchases from store to store was very difficult. We struggled to compare customer satisfaction, quality, performance and features between stores. Since we were unable to find the information we wanted to concerning the items, we turned to Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports has been around since 1936. They are a household name for good reason. Consumer Reports is a non profit and maintains a level of professionalism and freedom from bias that most other reviews sites cannot. They do very thorough work and publish very reliable ratings on common products.
It's worth noting that Consumer Reports is not free. Currently, a one-year subscription will set you back $40. However, if your spending thousands of dollars on appliances, a tv or even a new car, this is a solid investment.
I have also heard that many libraries have subscriptions to Consumer Reports. It may be worth asking your local library if they subscribe to the magazine. If so, you may be able to get all of the information you need without shelling out $40 to get it.
Everything Else: Amazon Reviews and Consumer Search
Amazon Reviews: Amazon has everything. Not only does Amazon sell everything under the sun, they have the best user review databases in the world. Product reviews written by customers are ranked by how helpful they are. Often the "Most Helpful" reviews provide a concise description of the benefits and drawbacks of each purchase. The zero to five star system can also quickly help streamline your shopping process. It's a safe bet to purchase any product with over 100 people giving it an average of 4.5 or higher. Generally, the higher the number of customer reviews, the safer the purchase. Put another way, a product that has 5 stars but only twelve reviews is likely not as good as a product that has 4 stars and 5,000 reviews. While I'm sure there are exceptions, I've found this to be a safe way to judge the quality of an item. Though you may not always get the best price on Amazon, it's a great place to determine your specific item for purchase.
Consumer Search: Similar to Sweethome, Consumer Search is a great collection of product reviews in a wide variety of categories. What sets Consumer Search apart is their process. Unlike Sweethome, they don't do any of their own testing. Instead, they aggregate product review information from a variety of sites across the web to help decide on the best product. Even better, they tell you in the "Sources" section of each review where they gleaned their information. This allows you to delve deeper into more specialized websites without having to seek them out yourself. For example, in their best lawn mower review, they drew information from Consumer Reports, Sweethome, Popular Mechanics, Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon, Walmart and Sears.
These are my tried and true review sites. Do you have others that you would add to the list? Please let me know in the comments below.
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Looking Ahead, Blogging Forward
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The Kindle Fire HD 8 - The iPad's Days are Numbered
A Fresh Start: Changes for the Year Ahead
Getting Great Stuff for Less - Part 2: Getting the Lowest Price
Getting Great Stuff for Less - Part 1 : Finding the Best Stuff
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