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Getting the most out of online product reviews

When you’re shopping for a particular item, online reviews can be a valuable tool in helping you select the best brand or model, even if you’re going to buy it in a local store instead of on the Web. However, not all reviews are created equal, and a product’s overall star rating may not tell the whole story. Consider these tips to help you weigh reviews appropriately.

Look for reviews from verified purchasers. Many websites allow anyone to post a review, whether they bought the product from that website or not. The danger with this is that there are some people who get paid to post positive or negative reviews on behalf of certain companies. By seeking out verified reviews, you can be sure the person praising or criticizing a product actually bought it. For example, on the Best Buy website, look for the “verified purchaser” graphic beside a review. You’ll see the term “Amazon verified purchase” on Amazon’s website. Photo and video store B&H uses a “verified buyer” graphic.

Sort the reviews by newest first. Some websites, like Amazon, feature at the top of a product page the reviews that have received the most “votes” for being helpful. In some cases, these reviews may be several years old. Look for a tool that allows you to sort reviews to show the newest ones first, and start reading there. Why? Product suppliers and manufacturing processes may change over time, so a product everyone loved a few years ago may be going downhill today.

Read more than one page of reviews. If this is a product you will be spending a considerable amount of money on, you want to make a wise decision. I recommend reading at least 25 reviews total from at least three websites to make sure you are gathering enough data on the product. This can be especially important if the sites you visit do not have verified reviews. If you have a limited amount of time, read mainly negative reviews to identify the potential downsides of the product.

Look for trends across websites. Even in the positive reviews, you may find some negative comments. If you see the same comment repeatedly, this can alert you to a potential flaw in the product. Assume what the reviewers are saying is true, and ask yourself if you can live with the flaw.

I’m convinced online reviews have saved me hundreds of dollars and many headaches by steering me away from products that looked great but weren’t. Which website do you find has the most helpful reviews?

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