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How to utilise user reviews and grab a bargain

Three ways to use them... and how not to

User reviews can offer valuable insight into a product's real value after the sale. But many review sites also contain write-ups by fanboys, axe-grinders, and even a few shills. How do you know which reviews to trust?

Balance your reviews diet

User reviews on retail websites are the quickest way to see what real shoppers think about a product. But the trap - especially with retailers like Amazon which have mastered the technique - is that user reviews make it easy to do all the research you can stand without ever leaving the shopping page you landed on.

You want slice-of-life examples of the product in use? Highlights of problem areas? Entertaining little feuds between different reviewers? The ability to interact with the reviews by voting them up or down? It's all conveniently located there, right below the 'Buy' button.

The problem is that the proximity of all of these options to the point of sale subtly transforms them into an extension of your shopping experience, as if each review were enabling you to hold the product in your hands from a slightly different angle.

And when you've seen enough, you can always just press the 'Buy' button and put your shopping expedition to rest.

Will Chamblerlain, the editor-in-chief of Steve's Digicams, has been writing and editing reviews for a decade.

He says that he looks to user reviews on sites like Amazon as a supplement to more-rigorous reviews when he's shopping for new electronics.

"It's nice to see what actual consumers have to say about products they've purchased," he says, "to see if they're in line with what the professionals are saying".

If every shopper on Amazon complains about some weakness that all the pros missed, Chamberlain says, it can give you an edge when you're deciding what to buy.

User reviews aren't just restricted to retail sites either. A number of specialist magazines that review digital equipment, PC Advisor included, encourage web users to post their thoughts on the products reviewed.

Meanwhile, Shopping comparison sites, such as Reevoo, which allow web users to find the cheapest deals for particular products online, are also a good source when it comes to looking for user reviews.

"Everyone at Reevoo is passionate about customer reviews and the value they add to the shopping community. User reviews provide invaluable insight for shoppers, retailers and manufacturers," said Richard Anson, CEO of Reevoo.

Anson said that 71 percent of UK online shoppers actively seek reviews before purchasing goods and by publishing customer reviews on their websites retailers and manufacturers can build trust with their customers, "something that is increasingly hard to gain and maintain".

Reviews also act as a powerful sales tool which increase conversion rates and drive customer loyalty, Anson said.

"Even bad reviews add balance and credibility to your brand and website. Consumers know what to expect when they receive the product, reducing returns and increasing customer satisfaction."

Anson added that manufacturers also get first-hand feedback on their products which can feed straight back into the product development cycle."

However, to check out reviews of products from Reevoo's users, you don't even need to navigate away from PC Advisor.

Simply hit the Reevoo user Ratings link, on the right-hand side of any PC Advisor review, and Reevoo's user reviews will be displayed at the bottom of the page.

NEXT PAGE: Lack of standardisation

  1. How to use them and how not to
  2. Balance your reviews diet
  3. Lack of standardisation
  4. Avoid the shills
  5. How to spot a shill
  6. Reviews aren't everything

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