Buying Online? Use Customer Reviews!

Almost all of us shop online anymore. And when you do, customer reviews should be an integral - maybe the most valuable -- part of your research.
In using customer reviews, there are some tips.
Fake reviews: Watch out for these. They're usually written by the product's marketing agency. They almost always give a 5-star review to boost the product's ranking and standings, praise the product and ask us to believe it has no faults.
Fake reviews are often posted by accounts that lack any personal details about the reviewer.
They have a very generic feel because they're written by professional writers with a great vocabulary.
So how do you tell a real review?
Look for the personal and unique.. Ninety-nine percent of the world's customers are not writers. When doing a review, the quality of writing is not their goal. Communicating their experience with the product is. Often, they'll include something personal, whether it's the region they live, their size, age, likes and dislikes. There are sometimes misspellings or the wrong use of words.
That's okay. You're looking for the honesty of the opinion and experience.
I'll give you two examples. I recently searched for a home theater sound system under $500. It finally came down to one model of one brand. After all the research, I knew the specs. I went to the customer reviews - on five different sites.
One reviewer described his experiences in the past with lots of cables, complicated set up that took most of a day and all his patience. This product, he said, had few cables and was hooked up in an hour. I knew this reviewer was in my age group because I'd had the same frustrating experiences years ago.
Another described his living room as being 15x30 ft. and the system handled the large space well. It had been exactly the information I'd been looking for since our living room is the same size and the power had been my concern.
Another said the sound bar was tinny. Another said the bass was too much. Another said he adjusted the bass. Others compared the system favorably to previous ones they'd had.
Yes, there were a few one and two star ratings but 90 percent were four and five star. I bought the system based on the customer reviews and I love it.
A few months ago I was looking for a good all-weather coat in a certain price range. I narrowed it down The North Face and Columbia. I read reviews on probably 10 sites where people talked earnestly about the construction of the coats, the material, where they lived and what the winter temperatures were. Some were hikers. Some skied. Many lived in the city. They talked about their body size and how the coat fit. A few mentioned that they'd had The North Face or Columbia coat for 10 years or more.
Again, I made my decision based on the help of fellow consumers and was happy with my choice.
These are real people not trying to score points or write eloquently. They are using what they know best - their lives, environments and experiences - to explain how and why they rated a product the way they did.
Buying is an investment that should serve you well and give you pleasure. So, be aware of fake reviews and spend some hours reading the real customer reviews. Then, as silly as it might sound, take all your new knowledge, combine it with your instincts, and make the purchase.
It's the best way to make an informed decision based on what's right for you.
Finally, pay it forward and write your own personal, honest review.
For more information on how to read reviews and evaluate a product, see TopValueReviews.