Friday, March 6, 2009

Be an Educated Consumer

I was browsing at a major consumer electronics retail store recently when I noticed a young couple shopping for camcorders. They looked perplexed and wary as they listened to the 17-year-old salesman explaining the product selection to them. Now, I don't know how their shopping experience worked out in the end, perhaps they found the perfect product and were completely satisfied. But my immediate thought was that these poor folks look like sitting ducks. They obviously hadn't done their homework, and the odds of getting the best deal without having researched the product are never good.

I know what you're thinking. Who has time to do product research and comparison shopping? With internet access, it is really so easy to research products that, in my opinion, there is just no excuse for making uninformed, impulsive large purchases. Of course, if you're shopping for dental floss, then the amount of money at stake is trivial. But serious penny pinchers like me will at least do some quick checking online to compare prices on all but the smallest purchases. It only takes a few minutes to look up a product on or through convenient price comparison websites like or

Another benefit of online product comparison is that many retail websites allow users to post product reviews. The two main pieces of information I'm looking for when shopping online are prices and reviews. Reading through consumer reviews can save you a lot of trouble, maybe even help you avoid buying an inferior product that you would have wound up replacing anyway. Subscription services like Consumer Reports offer the ultimate in-depth, objective reviews, but I've had good luck relying on the free reviews at most major shopping sites.

The bigger the purchase, the more time you should dedicate to researching online. If you are relying on retail salesmen to educate you about cars or household appliances, then you are at a major negotiating disadvantage. Make sure that you have some idea of the range of features and prices available before you talk to any salespeople.

Also, watch out for web retailers who try to lure you in with a low price quote, and then jack up the price at checkout with unreasonable shipping and handling charges. And for the best bargains, don't forget about buying used through sites like eBay and Craigslist. I built half of my home studio with Craigslist purchases!

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