Shopping online has become one of the most popular ways to shop, with the percent of total retail sales purchased over the Internet climbing from just over 5 percent in 2012 to nearly 10 percent this year. Shoppers appreciate the convenience, selection, and savings they enjoy when shopping online. But one drawback of buying online is that you can’t see and touch your purchase before you buy it. This leads to high return rates. Whereas returns for brick-and-mortar retail purchases average 8 to 10 percent, for online purchases this doubles to 20 percent, and during the holidays this soars to 30 percent for average purchases and as much as 50 percent for expensive items.
Returning an expensive online item is an inconvenient hassle, and many people don’t bother because of the effort involved, which is a waste of money. You can avoid the waste and hassle by doing due diligence before you make an online purchase. Here are three ways to find reviews of expensive items before buying them online.
Compare Multiple Reviews and Sources
Many online reviews are posted by companies themselves, disguised as customers, to artificially inflate their ratings. In other cases, a company’s competitors post fake negative reviews. Typically, fake reviewers make vague comments about how great a product is without supplying any details, make spelling mistakes, post similar reviews multiple times, or give themselves away in other ways. To weed out fake reviews, you can compare multiple reviews on the same site, or compare reviews from multiple sites, which will increase the number of genuine reviews from your total sample. You can compare leading customer review sites like Amazon, Angie’s List, and Choice.
Review Social Media Comments
Another excellent source of reviews is customer posts on a company’s social media profile. Customers will often come to a brand’s social page to post feedback on products, seek customer service help, or voice complaints. You can learn a great deal both about a company and its products by studying this type of information. For instance, the Instagram feed for Amway displays pictures of the company’s health, beauty, and home care products, along with customer comments on these items. Some brands have multiple feeds for different product lines and business functions. For example, Samsung posts information about its mobile devices on one of its Twitter feeds, with a link to its customer support feed, while the company’s electronics devices, in general, are on a different profile.
Use Third-party Review Sites
Another way to bypass fake reviews is to go to consumer advocacy sites that give unbiased, third-party reviews of products. Professional review sites have full-time staff who assess products based on tests against objective criteria. For instance, Consumer Reports features 8,000 reviews in a wide range of categories, from home appliances to mattresses to car tires. Other sites are more specialized. For instance, Tom’s Guide focuses on consumer tech products such as smartphones, desktops, and TVs.
Wasting time buying products you can’t use or have to return is no fun, but you can save yourself a lot of hassle by researching online reviews before buying. Comparing multiple reviews from more than one source, reviewing social media comments, and studying third-party review sites are three ways you can cut through phony reviews and get to accurate information about the products you’re shopping for.