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Reviewing Products Online

Manufacturer-supplied specs are one thing; real-world reviews from a product's customers are another. I find it extremely useful to read what other users have to say about an item before I decide to buy. Your fellow consumers will give you the unvarnished pros and cons based on actual use, and tell you whether or not they think the product was a good deal.


There are many sites on the Web that provide forums for customers' product reviews. We'll look at some of the best of these sites here. Many price comparison sites, such as Yahoo! Shopping (shopping.yahoo.com), offer product reviews and buying guides, in addition to their featured price comparisons. Learn more in Chapter 5, "Hunting for the Lowest Price."


Yeah, I know, Amazon.com is a retailer, not a product review site. But the fact remains: Amazon.com hosts one of the largest databases of customer product reviews on the Internet.

As you can see in Figure 3.3, almost all Amazon.com product pages include product reviews (typically provided by the manufacturer), editorial reviews (sourced from third parties), and customer reviews. The ones we're interested are the customer reviews, which are just what the name states—reviews of this specific product by Amazon.com customers.

When an Amazon.com customer writes a product review (and any customer can do so—it's not just for an elite group), he or she has to give the product a one-to-five star rating, along with the text review itself. The best and most frequent reviewers are accorded "spotlight review" status; these spotlight reviews are listed before the normal customer reviews. Amazon.com averages the star ratings for you, so you'll know up front the general consensus about any given product. Then it's time to read the reviews, which can range to detailed and well-informed to brief and goofy. (That's one of the things about reviews by real people—some are better at it than others.)

I frequently use Amazon.com as a review source, even if I end up purchasing a product elsewhere. The user base is so large that you can find reviews about almost anything, and in general they do a good job of describing a product's strong and weak points. Plus, Amazon.com has one of the best site-specific search engines on the Web, so finding a particular product is often easier here than on other sites.

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 You don't have to buy at Amazon.com to take advantage of the site's customer product reviews.


ConsumerREVIEW.com (http://www.consumerreview. com), shown in Figure 3.4, collects customer reviews from a bevy of specialty sites, detailed in Table 3.1. Users can write their own product reviews or search the site's formidable database of reviews.


Learn more about Amazon.com in Chapter 10, "Hunting for Bargains at Amazon.com."

Table 3.1 ConsumerREVIEW.com Specialty Sites


Products Reviewed


Audio equipment


New cars and accessories


Computers, PDAs, and other high-tech equipment


Golf equipment


Mountain bikes


Snowboarding, skiing, fishing, and camping equipment


Computer games and accessories


Digital cameras


35mm film cameras and equipment




Video games and consoles

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 Product reviews in a variety of categories at ConsumerREVIEW.com.

You can browse the reviews in the various categories or search for reviews of specific products. The product review pages, such as the one shown in Figure 3.5, summarize the customer ratings, display detailed individual reviews, and enable you to vote on the usefulness of each review. The site also links to online merchants for immediate purchase of the items you're reading about.

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 A typical ConsumerREVIEW. com product review.


ConsumerReports.org (http://www.consumerreports.org), shown in Figure 3.6, is the online arm of the venerable Consumer Reports magazine, published by Consumers Union. This site, like the magazine, presents independent tests and reviews of all types of products, from automobiles to water heaters. Also useful are the numerous buyer's guides and multi-product comparisons, which can help you narrow down your product choices. Note, however, that you have to subscribe to the magazine to read the site's full reviews.

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 Product reviews for subscribers only from ConsumerReports.org.


ConsumerSearch (http://www.consumersearch.com), shown in Figure 3.7, aggregates a variety of professional reviews about each product listed. That's right, these reviews aren't written by customers; they're written by professional reviewers, the guys you find writing for industry-specific magazines.

You start by browsing through a product category until you see a page that lists a number of different products. Next to each product is a one-paragraph summary of the available research; click the Full Story tab to read a more complete overview of the reviews. Click the All Reviews tab and you see summaries of the individual reviews, with the reviews themselves ranked by the site's editors, as shown in Figure 3.8.

The ConsumerSearch site is a great place to get a handle on what various magazines and professional reviews are saying about the leading products in various categories. The site even includes summaries of print reviews that aren't available online. I find it quite useful to compare these different reviews; not all reviewers always like the same products.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 ConsumerSearch: the site that reviews the reviewers.

Figure 3.8Figure 3.8 Comparing professional reviews at ConsumerSearch.


Epinons.com (http://www.epinions.com) is my favorite product review site. What's great about this site is that users can write reviews about virtually anything—not just products, but also services, retailers, and locales. (For fun, check out the reviews of fast food restaurants!)

As you can see in Figure 3.9, the site organizes its reviews by category, which are accessible via a series of tabs at the top of the page. There are so many items reviewed, however, that you might be better off using the Search For box to search for items by specific product name or number.

Figure 3.9Figure 3.9 One of the largest repositories of customer reviews on the Web: Epinions.com.

When you pull up a product page, you're greeted with a picture of the product along with links to manufacturer-supplied product details and any available customer reviews; the bottom of the page compares prices at various retailers. When you click through to a customer review page, such as the one shown in Figure 3.10, you'll most often find a series of considered, well-written reviews by people who take this responsibility quite seriously. You'll also find, at the top of the page, the overall average customer rating, as well as ratings for a variety of product attributes. It's a great way to find out just how a product is received in the real world by real users.

Figure 3.10Figure 3.10 Reading the detailed customer reviews at Epinions.com.

And here's a personal admission: I never make a major purchase without first checking out the customer reviews at Epinions.com. The site is that useful!


RateItAll (http://www.rateitall.com), shown in Figure 3.11, is a site where customers can rate a variety of products and services. It's not just limited to product ratings; you can also rate musicians, actors, colleges, baseball teams, drinks—you name it. Despite (or perhaps because of) the breadth of ratings here, RateItAll's product reviews here aren't near as extensive as those at Epinions.com and other larger sites. Although I sometimes find RateItAll interesting for its oddball review topics, to me it's less useful than some of the other major review sites.


Epinions.com reviews are also featured at the Shopping.com price-comparison site, discussed in Chapter 5.

Figure 3.11Figure 3.11 Find reviews of just about anything at RateItAll.com.

Review Centre

Review Centre (http://www.reviewcentre.com), shown in Figure 3.12, is unique in that it's a British-specific review site. It offers a great U.K.-specific perspective on products—which is especially useful if you live in England or are interested in British products. (And, as many products these days are sold globally, it's also useful if you don't live in the U.K.)


ReviewFinder (http://www.reviewfinder.com), shown in Figure 3.13, offers links to reviews of various types of electronic equipment: camcorders, computers, digital cameras, PDAs, video games, and so on. It's a good gateway to lots of other reviews across the Internet. In addition, the site also offers customer ratings of various online merchants, provided by PriceGrabber.com.

Product-Specific Review Sites

There are also many sites that offer reviews of specific types of products. These product-specific review sites are particularly prevalent in the electronics category. (Gadget geeks love to write about their gadgets!)

Table 3.2 shows some of these product-specific sites, by category.

Figure 3.12Figure 3.12 British product reviews at Review Centre.

Table 3.2 Product-Specific Review Sites




Audio/Video Equipment










Plasma TV Buying Guide


Computers and Electronics

Ars Technica



CNET Reviews









The Gadgeteer



Maximum PC



PC Magazine



Tom's Hardware Guide


Digital Cameras




Digital Camera Resource Page



Digital Photography Review



Steve's DigiCams


Figure 3.13Figure 3.13 Use ReviewFinder to find third-party reviews of various electronic products.

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