Secrets for selecting the best product to suit your needs
In a world where buying almost anything is literally at our fingertips (by 2023, 91% of the US population is expected to be online shoppers), it is extremely easy to get lost in the sea of similar-looking products that serve the same purpose. So then, what is the best way to pare down that inexhaustible list of available selections to the specific one that is perfect for you? After all, the ideal product for you may not be the ideal product for someone else.
In this article, I will share the strategies I use when selecting an item for purchase in situations where there are many alternatives available. Over time, these have served me very well not only in narrowing down the possibilities but also in ensuring the purchase I made served my purpose extremely well.
Before searching for a product on the market, it is first important to identify what purpose the product will serve. With so many products serving multiple purposes, you must understand what core capabilities are crucial for your purpose. Any other add-dons will then be an added, but not necessary, bonus.
For example, with a wall clock, a critical characteristic for me would be that it is silent and non-ticking. That already narrows down my search. Whether that clock can track other things such as temperature is an add-on that would be cool but not necessary.
When more than one characteristic is important to you, it is necessary to pare down what is most critical. With a car seat, for example, important factors would be safety and comfort. You would be surprised at how uncomfortable some car seats feel to the touch. Just imagine how they would feel for a toddler on a two-hour car ride! Things such as extra cup holders and an extendable base for more legroom are bonuses that would be great but not necessary if you are on a budget. We can call those secondary criteria.
One of the key items you also need to determine is the price range for the product you are looking for. It can be a range and can be flexible based on the options available through your search, however, it is an important factor that needs to be determined early on to narrow down the myriad of options available. After all, even a search for something as simple as a toothbrush on Amazon yields 20,000 results!
Once you have gone through your criteria and narrowed down what exactly you are looking for — and with which characteristics — you are ready to begin your search.
Let’s say I am looking for the best men’s trimmer on the market. I would go on Google search and type in Top trimmers or Top beard trimmers or Top men’s trimmers. The results would yield many lists with top trimmers and reasons for their selection.
After reviewing a couple of these lists, I will notice that a few select trimmers keep coming up in different lists over and over again. These are the ones to focus on! After all, if several different sources have that specific item listed as one of the top ones, then it is likely that it met differing criteria from those various sources and therefore has an advantage over trimmers that only appear once or twice on these lists.
Once I have narrowed down the selection of trimmers based on the above, I will further reduce the list by eliminating those that are significantly outside of my price range — or that don’t meet the requisite criteria that were determined beforehand. I will usually keep the options that meet all of my must-have criteria. However, they might not necessarily meet all of my would-like or secondary criteria.
Once the list is down to two or three options, I will proceed with reading reviews on Amazon as well as on Google by searching, for example, Philips 7000 trimmer reviews. Based on the below results, I can see right away that there are a lot of reviews on the Best Buy website and Amazon. The country the reviews originated from (Canada vs. the United States vs. Europe) is not as big of a concern as long as safety and quality standards are comparable.
I will discuss the strategy for reading through reviews in a separate section below.
In certain situations, I use a different search strategy to find the best item to suit my needs. In those cases, I would search for the top-rated items on retail websites that are well known for carrying quality items of that nature. When searching for a quality dryer to replace our existing one, I searched retailers such as Home Depot and Lowes. After proceeding to their section on dryers, I sorted the list by highest-rated dryers.
From that point on, I started from the first dryer and eliminated the ones that were outside of my price range and/or did not meet my needs (i.e., top-load dryer when I wanted a front-load dryer). I did the same with the Lowes website.
While going through the list, I would pause at dryers that were within my price range and met all of my primary criteria. I would then proceed to read the reviews associated with that dryer. Again, the strategy I use to analyze reviews will be discussed later in this article.
Another strategy that I use for selecting between different products or options is word of mouth. This strategy is more effective for certain things than others and can also work in congruence with the above two strategies. One important thing to note with this strategy is that aside from obtaining a word-of-mouth recommendation, it is important to ask for more information. Some questions I would ask include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Do you recommend this product?
- Why did you select this particular product?
- What do you like about this product?
- What is important for you with regards to the functionality of this product?
- What things would you improve about this product?
- Have you had any issues with this product since its purchase? And if so, were you able to resolve them with the seller, and/or did the warranty cover the defect?
- Would you purchase it again?
What this line of questioning allows you to do is determine whether the product is the perfect one for you! After all, the person recommending the product might not have the same quality standards or the same criteria as you. It is also imperative that you ask multiple people for recommendations, not just a single person.
As good as positive recommendations are, negative ones will also help you stay away from products you would not want to purchase, so pay close attention to those as well! It is also important to ask for more details because someone might not recommend a certain beautiful clock only because it is not silent but that may not be a major consideration for you.
And no matter what the recommendation is, I still suggest following up this line of questioning with an analysis of reviews for this product.
As an example, I found an amazing doctor through this type of word of mouth questioning. A few people recommended the same person and after following up with some online review analysis that further supported these recommendations, I decided to meet that individual. I was not disappointed.
I’ve learned over time to be more critical of reviews and to analyze them to get the most benefit from that research process.
Typically I will search for reviews of a certain item and sort by newest. The reason I do that is that the item may have had poor reviews a few years ago but following an upgrade by the manufacturer, it may have significantly improved in quality the past few years. The opposite can also be true for items whose quality has deteriorated over time. And it is the current quality of the item that I care about.
I will read through both the positive and the negative reviews. The positive reviews will outline the good characteristics of the product while the negative ones will indicate what buyers have struggled with.
I do read positive reviews in-depth and the more detail is provided, the better. I usually look for more descriptive reviews that explain why the item was so great. I can then compare the benefits of the item against my criteria, which can help evaluate whether the item is a good fit for me or not. I don’t only read five-star reviews as even the three and four-star reviews can provide lots of information.
There are certain situations where I will in fact narrow down the reviews by negative ones only and proceed to read through those. They contain as much information as the positive reviews in either being a deal-breaker for the item or reiterating the decision to proceed with the purchase. Let me provide an example: When searching for a bath mat that would provide an anti-slip surface, I found one at Home Depot. It had 192 reviews at the time with an average review rating of over 4.5 out of 5.
After reading through the description and the positive reviews, I was leaning towards purchasing this item. Either way, I knew that I could not dismiss the handful of negative reviews without reading through them. There were a few negative reviews that addressed difficulty with adhering the mat to the tub.
Some had not realized that the adhesive at the back was so strong that there would really only be one opportunity to align the mat and make it stick. These types of reviews had no negative impact on my decision to purchase the item. Rather they helped me install the item right from the first try. I realized that it would be better to install with two people rather than one — and that I needed to ensure that it was properly aligned before installation and to smooth the mat down incrementally as I was unrolling it to minimize air bubbles.
There were a few other reviews that mentioned that the mat did not provide as much grip as anticipated. After reading those reviews, the responses from Home Depot customer service representatives to address those reviews (they seemed invested in customer satisfaction and attempted to help rectify the problem), and all the positive reviews, I determined that the positive reviews far outweighed the negative.
After physically examining the surface of the mat, I determined that the grip met my expectations. Perhaps people writing the other reviews had required more of a grip and hence their negative reviews. Again, this is a great example of an item that meets one person’s primary criteria but not another’s.
I disregard reviews that have no comments as it does not provide me with a basis to evaluate the actual review.
I am also skeptical of reviews of a product on its manufacturer’s website. After all, those may be sponsored reviews or those gathered as part of a promotion. Certain websites will even indicate that the review was gathered as part of a promotion. Although in most cases, the company asks the buyers to provide an honest review of the product, there is always the possibility that reviews gathered as part of a promotion are not always truthful.
I will also read through the question and answer sections, if available. They could sometimes provide more insight into the product and its functionalities that are not available in the actual description.
Beware of false or misleading advertising! Yes, you read that right! Remember the criteria you so scrupulously selected at the start of your search? Well, what if you think you’ve found the perfect item only to discover that the advertising is false?
Well, let’s start with where false advertising would occur. This would typically be in the description of the item. It may either be intentionally or accidentally misleading. It may also be worded in such a way as to be overlooked by a purchaser who is only skimming the description, rather than reading it in full detail.
For example, while reading the item description of the following toddler pillow, I noticed that there was a lot of attention on the benefits of the pillow cover’s material, but not on the pillow itself. If you are looking for a hypoallergenic pillow, make sure to note that the manufacturer only claims that the pillowcase is hypoallergenic. There are no claims for the pillow itself. If you skim through the description very quickly, you might overlook that and purchase this pillow thinking the pillow is also hypoallergenic.
I have also seen manufacturers listing their wall clock, for example, as non-ticking or silent, when, in fact, it audibly ticks, perhaps just quietly. I was able to avoid a misinformed purchase by reading through the reviews, where a buyer was kind enough to explain that although the ticking is quiet, it is still audible. This, once again, underscores the importance of reading negative reviews as well as positive reviews.
Finally, you will want to examine the return and warranty policy of the seller. In the first instance, if you buy a product that you realize does not meet your expectations or criteria, you want to ensure that you can return or at the very least exchange it for store credit or another item. In general, for big purchases, you will want to ensure there’s a warranty that covers some of the critical components in your purchase.
We’ve all heard the expression that humans are not perfect. In fact, there is a push towards embracing that imperfection. So if we are not perfect, why should we expect all of our decisions to be? When making a selection based on the above recommendations (or not), there is still the possibility of making a mistake and selecting a sub-par item. Or finding out later that a better item exists. However, such is life. The key is knowing that you made an informed decision and being OK with the consequences that may or may not arise.
I sincerely hope that the above tips and tricks will help you easily navigate the world of online shopping!