Saturday, November 20, 2010

Consumer Retort- the Democratization of Consumer Research

A few years ago I subscribed to Consumer Reports online.  I had had a paper subscription in the past and when I let that lapse I would check out the periodical from the library when I needed to do research relevant to product consumption (as opposed to food consumption on which I need to do no research other than the lifting of fork or spoon to mouth).  I thought the online subscription would pay for itself in the savings and enhanced quality of products I would get from studying the Report.
photo © 2008 Manchester City Library  Creative Commons License

I just got a notice that my subscription was not renewed because the card I had on file was declined.  Several months ago I had to cancel my personal Amex card because someone in England used it to buy a lot of expensive stereo equipment.  I have a new card but have not updated all of those online subscriptions I have but don't remember that I have.

I decided to not update Consumer Reports because I really have found that it is not all that useful these days in buying items.  Case in point.  I consulted Consumer Reports before I bought my latest washing machine.  I bought a particular HE machine based on its rating.  Shortly after I placed the order at the Big Box Store,  I got a call from a plumber I had consulted about repairing my old washer.  He said he thought I might as well get a new one but not to waste my money on an HE machine.  Oops!  Then I decided to check the online reviews by consumers of the HE machine I had purchased.  One said that it shredded their clothes.   Another said that it developed a funny smell and had to be regularly cleaned with some additional product that cost a small fortune.  Double oops !  Since I was only a day away from delivery from the Big Box Store, I decided to go ahead with my purchase.  Luckily I have followed the directions for use assiduously and have not had any shredded items--yet.  And I have shelled out for the additional product to keep the machine sweet smelling.  The purchase turned out okay but no thanks to Consumer Reports which did not warn me about any of the issues I found in the  reviews online.

Another case in point is my vacuum cleaner.  I  bought it from Old School Big Store last year based on a very high Consumer Reports rating.  In my opinion, it is a mediocre machine, which I would have discovered if I had read the reviews by consumers online first.  Last week I bought a vacuum cleaner for my son and his family, a Hoover which cost about 40% of the price of the vacuum I own.  I researched the Hoover online and read a number of favorable reports by purchasers.  My son says that it works great.  Another win for the online review and another fail for the professional reviewing magazine.

Recently, I did not even bother to look at Consumer Reports before I bought the new dishwasher.  I solely relied on reviews on the internet.  So far, the machine works quite well and lives up to the accolades of the consuming masses.

So it would appear that the democracy of the internet has produced a better result than a business built on the promise of giving the best advice about what to buy.   I do not know if this outcome is the result of a decline in the standards of Consumer Reports or if it is inevitable that, for consumption decisions, the word of the masses (at least those opining online) is more reliable.  In any event, viva democracy !

No comments: