These days, online shopping is so mainstream that almost anything can be purchased at the click of a button – from groceries to cars, and even pets.
However, with the right search forums and reviews, you can gather enough information to make an educated decision and feel confident about making your purchase. At the very least, most products can still be easily returned even when purchased online.
But whatever is on your shopping list, make sure to follow these tips before clicking the checkout button:
Look for Amazon categories
As the world’s number one ecommerce store, there’s a very good chance you’ve purchased something from Amazon.
Before your next purchase, consider looking for the item you desire under the correct category.
When you search within a specific category, you’re more likely to get accurate and targeted results rather than a smorgasbord of products when you search the entire database. Many of those results may be irrelevant and will leave you clicking endlessly to find exactly what you’re after.
If you are uncertain of which category your item would be under, or if there are multiple possible categories where it could be, just search under a few different ones to narrow down which list of items you prefer.
Make a wish list
If you make a wish list of items you’re after on Amazon, whenever you login to your account, Amazon will inform you of price drops or increases for these products.
There are also many apps and plugins that will tell you whether there’s a change in price. Price Alert for Amazon is one such app, and is available for iOS and Android, while Camelcamelcamel is a browser addon that tracks Amazon price alerts for free.
As a side note, if you’re looking for some of the best deals on household staples, look at Amazon’s Subscribe and Save items. Many of the items on these lists include diapers, dish pods and toilet paper which are often cheaper than they are in stores.
Look for forum discussions and review boards
With the advent of the Internet came the rise of online forums.
Many forums now require an identity to be attached to the profile when a reviewer wishes to leave a comment or review about a product in order to create incentive for honest and fair responses.
Certain websites also allow "upvoting" or “downvoting” of responses, which allows other forum members to support or show their disagreement with the original poster’s response.
There are also many official consumer review websites that are worthwhile to join (though they may charge a fee to join). These sites will give a thorough and detailed analysis and review on the best products in almost every category imaginable.
Certain websites such as Consumer Reports have their reviews conducted by experts in the area of the product you are searching for. They also place high value on fair and transparent reviews.
Look to American websites with more reviews
If you’re a Canadian shopper like I am, you most likely shop on the Canadian version of most ecommerce stores such as Amazon.ca.
However, it’s a good idea to take a look at the U.S. version of whichever ecommerce site you are shopping on to check out more plentiful reviews on products.
There was once a diffuser I was looking at on the Canadian Amazon website. However, I was nervous about ordering an electronic item with only eight reviews. Most of them were good, but I didn’t think it was enough to give me a thorough idea of whether this was a good-quality product or not.
So I went over to the American version of Amazon where there were nearly 75 reviews on this exact same item, giving me a far better idea of what I was buying. Additionally, more questions were asked and answered on the American website allowing me extra insight into how this product performed.
Avoid only looking at the most recent reviews
Although you may be tempted to read only the top or most recent reviews on the item you are considering, don’t fall trap to the bias towards reading only the most recent reviews.
If the product never changed, look all the way back to the oldest reviews to see if the reviews are fairly consistent.
Also, ensure that the reviewer has had the item long enough to give it a fair test run. I am always dubious of people who write reviews on items they haven’t even opened or used yet. To be fair, sometimes they are reviewing the speediness of shipping…
But I am more interested in the product itself and would like to read a thorough, yet fair assessment once they have actually used it.
Watch for one-star and three-star reviews
When a product is given five stars, there is usually not as much input given in the review since this means the product works as it should.
Often the most detailed reviews are the lowest to mid ranking ones. If there is something wrong with the product, or there are things you should know about it, these one to three star ratings usually tell all.
The lowest ranking reviews often tell exactly where the product has gone wrong or what the weak points are.
Don’t forget about social media reviews
If you are finding it difficult to find any reviews on the product you’re interested in, look for the ways people tend to praise or complain about products: on social media.
Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, the relatively quick and easy way of communicating with businesses in a public manner is through these channels.
They are also usually extremely effective. Think of social media as the customer service department and public relations rolled into one. Companies usually respond to complaints and bad reviews of their product quickly since they don’t want the bad publicity.
As you do with other reviews, view all tweets and comments critically to see if what they are saying about the product is a valid concern...or if these customers simply have a bone to pick with the company.
Check out the return policy
If after doing your due diligence, you are still apprehensive about purchasing a product online, read the fine print on the company’s online return policy.
If the website you are shopping through also has a bricks and mortar store, there is a good chance they will allow you to return the item in store at no charge.
However, if getting to a store is an issue for you, see if they will provide a prepaid shipping label so you can return items directly. If you paid for shipping, there is a good chance your original shipping charges will not be refunded. However if it is an item you do not like or will not use, then it’s best to just return it and get the refund.
Other times, a full refund may not be possible, but a store credit is. Just be clear on the terms and conditions before you order.
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