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 or discovering a great deal that Walmart has this week.

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. 


Update: Behind the Store: Truck Safety

I’d like to give you an update on the last post I wrote about regarding Truck Safety .

I wrote my first post after being passed by a speeding Walmart truck last summer while driving on a highway with my son. My concern at the time was that a new truck anti-speeding law had recently been overturned in the courts. My post was not intended to get into the details about how to make a good law. My main point was that shoppers should care not just about the lowest price on a shelf, but also for how the lowest price product reaches the shelf safely for ourselves and our children.  I believe it’s importnat to have the strong consumer protection and road safety laws, but ultimately consumers have the power to judge corporate actions regarding our safety by carefully choosing what we buy and who we buy it from.

So, I’d like to report another event with a Walmart truck on the highway as I was driving home with my children from my parents over the recent holidays. The difference this time is that I am very happy with what happened. While I was driving the speed limit on the highway, I came across a Walmart truck that was going slightly below the speed limit. Awesome! I was so happy to find a Walmart truck that keeps it’s lights on AND drives within the speed limit FOR OUR SAFETY. That’s a consistent message I can believe. Well done Walmart.

I realize this is not a valid scientific study by any means, but I think it’s a good idea for every shopper to observe what’s happening around them and intelligently connect different consumer issues when possible.

The downside of my trip is that the Walmart truck was the exception to the rule. I was passed by many speeding trucks. It appears many many truck drivers don’t care about highway safety and are no longer required to use highway safety equipment in their trucks.

For those retailers who brand their trucks, I hope you remain committed to highway safety by having your trucks obey the speed limits, even though your drivers are not using speed-limiting safety equipment. Your customers care about highway safety and hope you do too. I think you’ll find customers will notice and reward you if you show an honest and transparent effort to be a good corporate citizen.

Behind the Store: Truck Safety

I was travelling to my parents’ cottage for a little visit this summer. While my mind was thinking about the fun we would have at the cottage, a big transport truck came racing up behind me. As the truck approached from behind, I quickly shifted my focus from fun at the cottage to the immediate problem of making sure the truck could pass safely. After passing me on a flat strech of highway, my mind shifted to the ModShopper shopping and retail website. I don’t think I would of connected the passing truck to “shopping” if the truck wasn’t a big advertisement for Walmart. What specifically struck me was the part on the truck that says “We drive with our lights on for safety”. I wonder if Walmart thinks a speeding truck with its lights on is a safer truck than a speeding truck without its lights on.

As the truck pulled away, I started to think beyond the safety of my son and myself. It moved to the bigger question about consumer safety. Not just of the products that you take home with you, but also about how products are made and what happens before they reach the store shelf. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that today’s shoppers have more on their minds than just low everday prices. Prices may be a key part of the equation, but surely shoppers want to spend their money from stores and product producers that have low prices AND are also good corporate citizens.

As for truck/highway safety and being a good corporate citizen, I recently read about a court ruling here in Ontario that said the government cannot force truck drivers to use speed regulators which stop the truck drivers from speeding. I also found another article applicable in the US were the National Retail Federation (NRF) is supporting less truck driver regulation … “NRF Joins Truck Driver Regulations Fight“.

The real question I have is not whether government regulations are good or bad. The real question to me is whether retailers care about their customers’s safety more than they care about getting paid at a cash register. If they do, governement regulations will take care of themselves.

I’ll let the Truck Safety experts debate the merits of specific truck regulations. I sure hope they do a good job, because I feel the the safety of millions of families traveling on our highways is as important as getting everyday low prices.