How to Be an Educated Consumer
While I’ve been known to impulse shop on occasion, I’m more likely to do research and read reviews before making major purchases. Clothing retailer Sy Syms coined the phrase, "An educated consumer is our best customer." Other retailers may disagree with Syms, but I’d argue that an educated consumer is the best customer.
I think of major purchases not only as large-ticket items, but also less-expensive items that I’ll use regularly or keep for a long time. When making major purchases, I usually follow a four-step process:
- Read reviews written by both professionals and consumers
- Identify the top-rated products that are within my price range and offer the features I need
- Research prices to determine which retailer has the best deal
- Buy the product, charge it to a credit card that will double my warranty (if it’s a piece of electronics) and keep the receipt
If you try to be an educated consumer–or if you want to be!–here are some of my favorite websites for researching products, but also for keeping up on general consumer information and recalls.
Product Reviews: Even if you’re not buying from Amazon, its consumer reviews can’t be beat. The company’s no longer just a book seller (though their reader book reviews are fantastic). You’ll find reviews for everything from electronics to milk. (The milk reviews are written tongue-in-cheek, and have long been an internet sensation.) Epinions also offers a good assortment of consumer reviews for a variety of product categories.
When it comes to professional product reviews, CNET.
Finding the Best Deal: Sites like Epinions also show the price range of products and will connect you with online retailers. Recently I’ve become a fan of Google Shopping. You plug in a general or specific description of the product you want to buy as well as your zip code and Google links to the online retailers and nearby stores that sell it.
Before buying anything online, I make sure to visit FatWallet, which has relationships with more than 2,500 retailers. If you create a free account with FatWallet, then remember to click through to a retailer’s site through FatWallet, FatWallet will give you a cash-back bonus on your purchase. (The retailer is paying FatWallet for sending traffic its way, and FatWallet is sharing a portion of that payment with you.) According to my account, FatWallet has paid me $156 (deposited to my PayPal account) since I became a member. I also try to check RetailMeNot which has coupon codes and discounts for thousands of online stores. Often you can grab a code for free shipping or a discount off your entire purchase price.
Keeping Abreast of Consumer Issues: I’m a faithful reader of The Consumerist, which is a consumer-oriented blog now owned by the same company that publishes Hot Topics section, and post recall alerts on our Twitter feed.
- Learn more about consumer law on Lawyers.com
- Find a lawyer on Lawyers.com
- Read 10 Tips to Save Money at the Pump
- Lawyers.com Suggested Legal Books
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