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Online shopping strategies found while looking for a phone (1/15/06)

I generally do a lot of my product research on amazon.com because of the popularity of the user reviews and lack of ads or other confusing factors. The sort functions are wonderful, though occasionally inconsistent. The most appealing, initially, was the sort by average customer review (mind the accessory handsets, won't you?). Generally high quality products can be found in a variety of price ranges, not necessarily the top. However, glitches in this sort are readily apparent:

  • Reviews can be biased by product loyalties and folks looking for very specific features I'm not interested in. They are more likely to post because of their emotional investment and further bias the sample. This problem is exacerbated when there are too few reviews to cancel out these biases.
  • We have to get through all of the 5 stars before we get to the 4.5 and 4 stars. Amazon has a lot of unavailable products in it's inventory so we end up spending a lot of time looking at unavailable products. Most folks allocate only a set amount of time to this activity so if a large chunk of that time is wasted they will give up without finding the product "hidden" as a 4.5 or 4 star item.
  • Not all products are in these listings. More on this later.

So I moved to a different strategy. There is a saying: "People vote with their feet". Amazon has a best selling sort, and in that sort the top products tend to have a lot of reviews, which helps to correct the bias problem mentioned above. Because the products are bestsellers they often tend to be currently available too, solving yet another of the original problems.

Even a rough read of the reviews can establish which is ideal, however the lack of products in the listings is still a problem. Some "base model" products will be readily apparent though, and therein lies the solution: companies tend to innovate off of these base models so if we identify the "good" base model products we can hit the company's website and see if they offer a version with the right features. It wouldn't have come up in our sorts earlier because it isn't listed on Amazon, or due to any of the factors we discussed above. It may not have been ranked as high as we needed it to be to identify it. In this case the product picture is [edit: was] incorrect, it only has one review, and it isn't even sold by Amazon but is instead available through Target. To check the proposed product I googled for other reviews and check epinions.com. Again, there is only one review but it is problem free and more than backed up by the reviews we already found on the base model product. Note that epinions.com also suffers from the problems we discussed above, except their reduced popularity compared to Amazon.com makes even the base model seem like a risk.

Of course, the fallout for Amazon comes from their lack of listings and incorrect information... they don't get the sale. For electronics I like to order from the manufacturer anyway. It just seems wiser in case I need to return it or get help with it, cutting out the middle man and all.

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