Being a smart consumer on the Internet

By DEBORA RUBI

There is a huge section of sites on the Internet dedicated to shopping. While the majority are specific sites hosting products (Amazon.com, Ebay, or the site of any major retail shop), there is also a large number of sites devoted to consumer information.

The amount of items found on sale on the internet can be unnerving. To even the most sophisticated buyer, being able to reduce all these products to specific needs can be daunting. These sites help not only locate the best goods, pinpoint the bad ones, but also provide avenues to report problems with products.

On the first of those, a great example is http://www.consumerreports.org. The site provides recommendations for all kinds of products based on user ratings and actual tests. The site has a ticker on the top left corner, listing the number of products it has tested (3,000 at the point this was written). The site also provides specific user reports and expert ratings. Many of the added features, however, force the user to sign up and pay a monthly fee. The free aspect of the site is still very useful for the casual buyer in providing products that have to a certain degree been guaranteed for their quality.

As far as sites dedicated to more of a ‘watchdog’ stance, The Consumerist (http://www.theconsumerist.com) provides specific articles related specifically to companies getting sued for their products. The site is divided into topics: costumer service, shopping, and ‘taking it seriously’. The taking seriously section provides horror stories as well as bad advertising and government services. The site is non-profit and is published by Consumer Media LLC. The only advertisements on the site are for http://www.consumerreports.org,

The final site is a bureaucratic site dealing with consumer information and consumer reports hosted by the Consumer & Government Bureau (http://www.fcc.gov/cib/— this specific Bureau deals with the FCC so only cable, telephone, broadband, etc..  The Bureau has various functions, as does the corresponding site. The site has a place to file comments electronically. There are various sites however corresponding to local government bureaus and other government agencies.

While these sites are a great way to be a better consumer, they may also be used in researching stories and finding viable sources regarding consumer satisfaction. Many of these stores come out with consumer reports much faster than other profit publications, so keeping an open eye and looking at these sorts of websites can be a great guide for stories. It is also a great way to compare stores and products — which can also make for a great story.

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