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How to Shop Wisely for Products

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Some people are born researchers of products, while others are impulsive buyers of them. But if you'll be spending significant money, whatever you determine that to be, research can help you choose the right product.

The right product means one that fits your needs and is likely to be high quality. Nobody can be an expert on every purchase. You might know a lot about automobiles, but nothing about buying dishwashers. Perhaps you know a lot about cell phones, but nothing about buying a baby stroller.

Just as important, some quick research can reveal the range of possibilities within a product line -- which features come with which model.

Just a generation ago, research was laborious. Maybe you visited several stores and talked to salespeople about the product. But if you need to buy a lawn mower, are you really going to visit a garden center and ask the salesperson which model you should buy? Salespeople can be very helpful, although it seems nowadays far less so. A salesperson has conflicting interests. He might have a genuine desire to do right by the customer. But a commissioned salesperson makes more money if he or she sells you a more expensive model of lawn mower, regardless of whether it's right for you.

So you need objective advice, or at least a variety of opinions, to make a smart spending choice.

Consulting a friend or relative is a good idea, as long as you realize that's just one person's experience and not the final word about the product. In the past, you could subscribe to Consumer Reports magazine, which has in-depth reviews. But you would have to wade through dozens of saved magazines trying to find the review you sought.

Because it was so difficult to find reviews, maybe you heavily researched purchases of homes, cars, and a few big-ticket items. And for the rest, you just winged it.

Today, because of the Internet, it's all different. You can research almost anything quickly.

For example, now, you can subscribe to Consumer Reports' online site and have instant access to reviews.

Rarely do I suggest spending money in order to save it. But an online subscription to Consumer Reports, found at www.consumerreports.org, is an exception. At the time of this writing, a subscription is a mere $26. That's a small price to pay for the outstanding product reviews and advice you receive. The advantage of the Web site over the magazine is the site is easily searchable. You can find the review you seek, even from years ago, in mere seconds.

The Consumer Reports site also offers blogs on such topics as cars, electronics, and products for babies and kids. Blogs are brief news items stacked chronologically, with the newest on top.

ConsumerSearch.com is another good resource. It's an aggregator of product reviews and gives a summary of what all the reviews seem to be saying. It's an efficient stop on the Web to get a lot of information quickly.

Mega online retailer Amazon.com is a good place to find reviews from actual users. Because Amazon.com sells a wide variety of products, it's worth a place in your Web browser's Favorites list, even if you never make a purchase from the retailer. Read a sampling of the good and bad reviews. But with user reviews, take comments with a grain of salt. Pay more attention to comments repeated in several reviews. Many retailers have user reviews on their Web sites now. So, if you were going to buy a particular model of LCD television, you might check large electronics retailer Best Buy to read reviews of the product on its site.

Another way to find reviews is to use your favorite search engine, such as Google.com. Type keywords that include the name and model of the product and the word "review." You'll likely find several reviews.

After a while, you'll find review sites that you like. For example, I like Cnet.com for reviews of electronics and software. Automobile reviews are available at such sites as Edmunds.com and Cars.com.

But if you want to keep it simple, check reviews at ConsumerReports.org, ConsumerSearch.com, and Amazon.com.

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From The 1-2-3 Money Plan Copyright © 2009, FT Press. Used by permission of FT Press, and Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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