How To Shop: Online Research

Before you run to the mall and fight for space with other shoppers, why don’t you sit back, relax and go shopping first? The trend is clear. Informed shoppers look online before heading out to the store. Shopping today starts at home!

I’m not talking about going the whole way. Although it’s true, once you start shopping on the couch or in bed, you might just be enticed to buy at Amazon, Ebay or some other seductive e-commerce site. The key thing to remember is to start by gathering the information that is important and relevant to your purchase. You’re in control. You decide what information is important to help you achieve your shopping goals. Your goal could be anything. Maybe it’s finding the latest Fashion on Pinterest, finding the highest recommended Washer & Dryer on Consumer Reports, discovering a great deal that Walmart has this week or getting a hard to find toy for your nephew on Think Geek?

Of course, it is not worth the effort to do extensive online research for all your shopping needs, but it is easier more than ever to do a little online research today. Because it is easier, the effort/reward ratio means it makes more sense to spend a little time looking on the Web even for smaller items.  However, when the commitment level to a purchase  is higher, it definitely makes sense to take the time and effort to double check what you want to buy.

Let’s take a look at the advantages of doing a little online research to help you get the best value, price, quality, warranty, etc. for your next purchase. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Why exactly do you want to do online research? One obvious reason is when making major purchases, things like household appliances, cars and houses. The costs of making a bad buy with type of purchase are great. The costs of online research are low. Hmmmm, easy choice here. Now there are times when you might need to make an immediate purchase (e.g. replace a broken Washer or Dryer), but certainly the effort required to do a little online research has the potential for a great payoff.

How about when you’re planning a project? A “Do It Yourself” backyard project for the guys? Paint an old room for the ladies who want a change? Projects take a bit of planning. Online research is a great way to get ideas, understand what materials are needed and then wait for the best deals to come up week by week.

The list of what you can look for online is endless … warranties, features/specs, prices, financing, quality, product & store comparisons, reviews & recommendations, sales/deals, supporting services like installation, maintenance & shipping. Not all these factors may be important to you, but if they are you should be able to find them on the web today. 

So, what is the best way to do your online product research? That’s a tough one. I typically start with a Google search. Product manufacturer and retail websites are another great source of information. If you trust the community, you can also find many recommendation and review sites.  Post a comment about the project you’re working on. I’ll see if I can help you find the best resources and product research techniques to help. 

Not everyone is happy with consumers who do online product research. It can make a few retailers feel threatened and unhappy. They use the term “Showrooming” to describe how potential customers use physical stores to research what they want and then buy it online at a better price. Of course, potential customers might also do the reverse, i.e. look at competitors’ websites before going to a physical store to buy from someone they trust. I recommend to the retailers who complain about “showrooming” to get over it. Don’t be lazy. Find out what your customers want. Reach out to them in a way that makes shopping with you convenient. This requires innovation, risk and hard work. Sorry, but it’s true. Take a look at The Cluetrain Manifesto if you haven’t seen it yet. It was written way back in 1999, but it’s becoming even more applicable now. 

Shoppers, don’t be lazy either. You have work to do to if you want to encourage the marketplace to deliver better shopping experiences to you. Go out and learn how to improve your online product research skills. The effort will be worth it.

Tell me what you think. Do you do product research online at home or at a store? What techniques do you use that others might find useful? Which websites give you the best information and/or deals? Please write a comment and tell me.

Please look at Modshopper Online Shopping Research Resources for more help with your shopping research. 


Birthday Gift Shopping Experience

I think it’s important to understand the current shopping experience before improvements can be targeted. To that end, I plan to share my shopping experiences with you from time to time. You’re welcome to share your experiences too. Rants and Raves are encouraged. 🙂

So, I was shopping for my son’s birthday last week. Sometimes I’m on top of the gift list, but not so much this year.  James gave me a few helpful hints as his birthday approached. Unfortunately, I did not record the hints in a wish list. It turns out my memory doesn’t work so well when I don’t write things down.

When I finally started to shop for the gifts before his birthday, I surprised myself in that I successfully anticipated one of the gifts even before he asked for it (a Microsoft XBox wireless controller). I was able to buy it on sale when I saw it advertised in a newspaper flyer. I also remembered the most important present, an Xbox Minecraft game. It was released a day before his birthday. During my online research I found out that it could only be purchased online. Not my preference since I did not have an account with Microsoft, but oh well, I decided to wait until his birthday and let him order it online with my credit card. Last but not least, I totally forgot about the Electronic Arts Sims3 game. I felt a little guilty for not remembering the Sims3 game, but part of parenting is learning to roll with the punches and make a quick recovery. Maybe I can avoid the bad feelings next year if I find a better way to track the wish list.

So the birthday comes. James gets his Xbox wireless controller. Unfortunately, when we tried to order the Xbox Minecraft game, the Xbox website would not accept my credit card. The Microsoft website told me to call my credit card company. So, I did. The first person I talked to at Captial One Mastercard was very very unhelpful. To start with, I’m not happy with Capital One Mastercard, but that’s another story. When the customer service person repeated the same thing over and over and expected me to be happy, it only made me more frustrated. I finally had to speak to the customer service manager. She was helpful, because she gave me more information about what was happening and what I could do about it. Ultimately, I had to call Microsoft Xbox support.

I received great service from the Microsoft support process from this point onward. I found the support web page. It asked me if I wanted to chat with someone online or if I wanted someone from Microsoft to call my home. They even gave me an expected wait time for each option. Nice. The phone option was quicker, so I clicked on it and waited. Sure enough they called my house within a few minutes. I worked with a support person (based in the Midwest USA) for about 30 minutes trying different things. He finally decided the Microsoft payment system was not working, offered a month of Xbox Live for free and suggested that I try again later. I thanked him for his help and gave positive feedback about the excellent service to his manager. I don’t usually do this, but the service representative was particularly good.

The Microsoft support guy really was helpful, but the initial web error message sent me the wrong way and unfortunately for Microsoft they could not accept the money I wanted to give them.  In the end we went to Best Buy to get the Sims3 game that James wanted. It turns out it was even cheaper than ordering it from

All in all, it was a more eventful shopping experience than I had hoped for. James was happy with the gifts he got, but we still haven’t had time to go back and purchase the Xbox Minecraft game. I’ll have to make sure that happens soon. 🙂