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Online Independent Research Resources
There are a host of different resources available online to help you with researching
vendors and prices. Most of these represent the accumulation and sharing of the personal
experiences of other computer users and shoppers, making them of invaluable assistance in
your shopping effort. Just a few short years ago these did not exist, and their presence
is one way that the information-sharing properties of the Internet have helped people
avoid serious shopping mistakes. This sharing is a powerful tool, and one that I strongly
recommend you take advantage of.
Of course, almost everything that is offline today is also online. :^) Magazines,
vendors, manufacturers and even consumer affairs agencies have an online presence. What I
am talking about here though are independent resources that exist in addition to
the "formal" web sites for these companies. Here are some of the more useful
- ResellerRatings.com: This
is a very useful site that was started specifically to let the customers of manufacturers
and vendors evaluate them for use as reference by potential customers. The database
contains information on over 1,000 companies, provided by tens of thousands of actual
customers. Before you buy from a company, go to this site and look for its information on
this site. Here's how to use the data you will find:
- The more responses listed for a vendor, the more valid the scores for that vendor,
generally speaking. If over 100 comments are given and 90% of them are positive, this is
probably a very good vendor. If there are fewer than 10 comments on the vendor, the sample
size is small, so take the data with a grain of salt. Look only for signs of gross
dissatisfaction--like most of them being serious complaints.
- Assess the scores for the vendor; 7 is perfect, 0 is worst. In practice, most vendors
with a score of 5 or higher are pretty good. A score of 6 or higher is very good. Don't
look at just the overall rating of the vendor, look at the individual ratings for customer
service, shipping, pricing and so on.
- Look at the comments provided for the vendor. Read the testimonials to see what
others' experiences have been like. These are in many ways more important than the
numerical scores, because they will tell you in more detail what the company's strengths
and weaknesses are.
- If you use the service, contribute by providing
feedback yourself after using a vendor, so the next person can benefit from your
- Deja.com: Deja.com (formerly Dejanews)
is an online archive of Usenet articles. Usenet (discussed below) is a world-wide
discussion forum where people exchange ideas, opinions and information. Doing a search for
a particular company name, or product model number, will show you what people are saying
about it--and if there are problems with the company or product, you'll discover this by
reading the articles. (Another idea is to search for "<name> and
problems", which will return articles where both the "<name>" and the
word "problems" occur.) Look for trends: many people either happy or
dissatisfied, not just one or two. If the company is very large, you may have to further
narrow your search; typing the name of a very big company will probably result in
thousands of hits, most of which won't be of relevance to you.
- Usenet: If you can't find what you are
looking for on Deja.com, you may be able to get some useful feedback from Usenet directly
(but check Deja.com first, so you don't waste the time of Usenet regulars.. they may have
just answered the same question you are about to ask). Choose the forum matching the
subject you want to know about, and read it, to see if any current discussions are related
to what you want to know. If not, ask a single polite question, such as: "I am
considering buying a PC from <X company>. Has anyone had good or bad experiences
with them?" See the discussion of vendor reputation
for help in interpreting the answers.
- Independent Sites: Many independent
web sites regularly review the hardware of various manufacturers, assessing it for quality
and performance. Note that you typically won't find vendor assessments here, just
reviews of hardware products, usually components.
- Forums: The PC Guide has discussion
forums where you can discuss all sorts of issues related to PCs; on these forums
you will find many PC enthusiasts happy to answer questions about hardware and vendors.
There is also a forum specifically dedicated to matters related to buying PCs. (Many of
the independent sites referenced above also have discussion forums.) This input is very
much worth considering, though again, make sure not to overvalue one or two responses, and
recognize that not everyone in these discussion forums is equally knowledgeable.
- General Search Engines: You will be able to find more information of various
sorts by using regular Web search engines.
Note: It's important when doing
research, and especially when looking at feedback, to keep your perspective. Every company
has the occasional problem--and the occasional difficult customer. Reading comments from
customers is very valuable, but you're only seeing one side of the story, so don't
conclude that a vendor is bad based just on one or two negative comments. Look for the
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