Friday, January 18, 2013

Thrift Week Day Two: ConsumerSearch

Continuing our Thrift Week tour through the thriftiest sites on the Internet, we come to another personal favorite of mine, ConsumerSearch. As regular readers will know, I have a personal stake in this company, since I'm one of its regular writers—but I was already a fan of the site before I started working there. I first wrote about it on this blog back in 2010, and I don't think I can improve on the description I gave at the time of how the site works:
By the by, let me take a moment here to insert a plug for ConsumerSearch, an incredibly handy site that I would recommend even if I weren't working for them. Here's an example of how it works. Suppose you're shopping for, say, a TV set. Normally, you might start by consulting Consumer Reports to see which models they recommend. Then you might check a few other publications that have reviews of electronic items, such as Wired, to see if they agree with those recommendations. If you really wanted to be thorough, maybe you'd go to a site like Amazon.com or Epinions.com to see what users have to say about the model you're interested in: do they like it, or have they discovered problems with it that didn't show up in the professionals' tests? And finally, once you'd settled on a TV, you'd visit several sites to compare prices before deciding where to buy it. 
Well, ConsumerSearch does all that work for you. We consult the best publications and the user review sites, and then we report on what we find there and make recommendations in several categories; for a TV, these might be different types—LCD, plasma, etc.—or different sizes, or different price ranges. You can click on a link to read more about the particular product that interests you and see price comparisons from around the Web. Having worked on these reports, I can attest that they're very thorough; it takes me about 30 hours of work to research and write one, but it only takes about fifteen minutes to read it and have everything set out neatly for you. And if you have even less time than that to spare, you can read just the front page, where we identify the top products, with a paragraph about each one laying out its pros and cons. 
I think this is a really great tool for the ecofrugal, because it helps you spend your money wisely (and protect the environment at the same time by choosing products that will last, rather than needing replacement after a year or so). ConsumerSearch reports don't generally focus specifically on the "green" features of a product, but we do, where appropriate, include "green" products as one of our Best-Reviewed categories (for example, with laundry detergents).
Actually, that second paragraph is a bit out of date, because ConsumerSearch changed the format of its reports last year. The full report on any given topic is now much shorter, with just a single paragraph on each top-rated product. However, within that paragraph, you'll find a link to a separate page that covers that product in much more detail, analyzing its features, durability, and anything else you're likely to want to know about it. (Here's an example from last month's report on cookware.) So it now takes even less time to read the full report, but if you want to know more about a specific product, you can take a few extra minutes to read about it in more detail.

These days, Brian and I wouldn't even think about making a major purchase without consulting ConsumerSearch first. Checking this site was our first step when shopping for our camera, for Brian's bike, for our microwave, and even for our car. It's helpful for smaller purchases, as well; when I decided to try a new facial cleanser, for instance, reading through a report to find the best choices was a lot easier, and a lot less costly, than going through every product on the shelf until I found one I liked. And we've also used ConsumerSearch when shopping for services, like pet health insurance for our cat.

Unlike Freecycle, this isn't a site you need to sign up for. You can just go to the main page, http://www.consumersearch.com/, at any time and type in the product you're looking for. ConsumerSearch covers a huge range of product types, from electronics to kitchen knives to power tools, so no matter what kind of major purchase you might have on the horizon, this site can help streamline your search.
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