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Monday, October 12, 2009

Know Before You Buy

A sense of being "ripped off" is one of the worst emotions you can experience. The expensive car that turns out to be a lemon. The lovely home with a basement that floods or major structural damage that will cost thousands to repair. That investment scheme that sends your retirement savings into oblivion.

There are lots of online services that can help you avoid a bad purchasing decision. Today, I'll highlight two of them: the old standby Consumer Reports and a free Web site called ConsumerSearch.

Consumer Reports is both a printed publication and an online service and accessing either one will cost you, unless you've got the good sense to have a library card. (Not every library subscribes to Consumer Reports, but DPPL does.) What's particularly nice about the online version: 1) You can access it from your home computer with your library card number; 2) it's very easy to search for information on a specific product or brand, which was always difficult with the print version. Consumer Reports defines its mission as "Expert - Independent - Non-Profit," so if you want an unbiased opinion from someone with a lot of knowledge on the topic, this is the place to start. Get your library card out and try it now.

ConsumerSearch is a freely available Web site. You don't need to subscribe or even have a library card. As you know, the World Wide Web is FULL of product reviews, from experts and from ordinary folks like us. I don't know about you, but I enjoy the opportunity to rave about a favorite restaurant or an excellent shopping experience, as well as the chance to publicly gripe about poor customer service or product quality. Reading all those reviews can be a nuisance, however. An awful lot of them are full of such bad spelling, garbled grammar and hateful or even obscene language that it's hard to know if the reviewer is serious. Did you know that many of the people who write comments and reviews on Web sites actually being paid to write them and are therefore completely biased and untrustworthy? Nevertheless, ConsumerSearch does a nice job of summarizing all those reviews out there (see the "Best Reviewed" tab), while also linking you to sites where you can buy the products, special offers, related news articles and other online content.

was rated one of the 50 best Web sites for 2009 by Time magazine, and while I found it a little hard to navigate at first, it is well worth bookmarking on your computer and referring to when you need to make a big or small purchase. By the way, when this blog post disappears, you can find Consumer Reports in the Reference section of our Web site, in the alphabetical listing of research databases.

Next up I'll introduce you to a popular Web community where people share their opinions on the best places in the communities where they live and work.

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