My process for buying products can be quite involved and I equate it to more of a lifecycle, especially if the product is technology related. Impulse buyers need not apply. This post will cover concepts on how to use the web as a tool for each step and list resources that help achieve them. To make the process relevant I’ll use buying a digital camera as the product example.

Step 1 – Research (to narrow the field of contenders and make a decision)

So I’ve decided to buy a digital camera. For any given product there will surely be tons of product choices available so by setting some specific requirements you can narrow the field considerably. So my first step is to determine what features I want. For instance if you needed a waterproof camera you will definitely be looking at a very small handful of models. Another method to narrow even further is to set a price that you are willing to spend.

These were my requirements for a digital camera

  • 6 Megapixel
  • 10x (or higher) Optical Zoom
  • Image Stabilization
  • Movie Mode that captures at 30 Frames per second
  • Under $400

Now it’s time to find a tool to narrow the field of products that meet my requirements. Most shopping & comparison sites will offer some basic tools to narrow your search. You can see examples here at Shopzilla, Amazon, and Pricegrabber. But if you want a more thorough and finer set of filters you will probably need to find a review or other niche site that specializes in the type of product you are searching for.

Dpreview Comparison Tool

If you are not aware of review sites for the product you are seeking, you will need to find them by using a search engine. A simple search on Google for “Digital Camera Review Site” returns these results. Which as of this writing happen to be my 3 favorite sites for information on digital cameras. They are Digital Photography Review, Steve’s Digicams, and Digital Camera Resource Page. Dpreview has a great comparison tool, so I went there and entered in my criteria. It returned 7 cameras. After I get this far I have two more methods I will take to narrow my decision down.

The first is to read the reviews on each of the respected sites I’ve identified. The second is to read posts and comments from users who own each of them on forums, blogs, and commerce sites. It’s best to get this information from sites that are dedicated to the product line you are searching for. Dpreview has manufacturer specific forums. Two other good places to search for product feedback are reviews from Epinions and Amazon. Reading user feedback definitely requires filtering out some noise, but generally will provide details that make it easier to decide on the right product for you.

After this process I quickly narrowed the field down to 2 cameras. The Panasonic FZ7 and the Canon S3 IS. It was very hard to decide between them but by now I had determined several other factors based on the information I learned about each to help me make my decision. The smaller size and weight of the Panasonic FZ7 as well as lower price helped me make that choice. Now we’re on to the next step.
Step 2 – Purchase (by comparing prices and merchants where to buy)

Techbargains
I mentioned shopping comparison sites above and they are great to use for finding the going “street price” of a product. If you are patient however, there are quite a few “Deal Sites” out there that can save you considerable money if you are willing to wait and do a little searching. My favorites are Dealnews, Techbargains, and the Fatwallet Forum. You can search of these sites with the model number of the product you want and if there aren’t currently any results or you want to wait until a great deal comes along you can subsribe via RSS or Email specifically based on the search criteria you want. The other advantage is that these sites will only list offers from reputable merchants (in the case of Fatwallet, the user base will rate accordingly). This really makes waiting for a great deal easy.

Dealnews
Another consideration is to purchase a used item. I have done this several times using both Ebay for online as well as Craigslist for in-person transactions. In both cases you can setup notifications via RSS much the same way as the examples above.

Ebay

On Ebay after you search for a product and see the results page you can scroll down to the bottom and you will see a tools section with an “RSS” button. That button provides a feed for the search term that you can monitor as new items are added to Ebay. Before buying you will want to determine what the current value of your item is on the used market. One of the best ways to gather this information is by viewing a batch of recent completed listings on Ebay. This is done by by making use of their search filters. You will want to set a filter for “items
priced” to start at a value to filter out accessories. This will help with limiting relevant results to help you. Make sure that you factor in shipping charges into the total cost. Lastly you may be able to find the item locally by using their location filter as well.

Fatwallet
Armed with the current used market pricing you can also search for an item in the classifieds. My preferred place to do this is on Craigslist. You can get a feed based on search results the same way as Ebay. You will see a link at the bottom of the search results page labeled RSS.

Craigslist

Step 3 – Support (by discovering useful resources on the web)

So now you’ve gone through all the trouble of deciding what to buy, being patient to get the item from the right place and right price, but it’s not over yet. There is an amazing wealth of community support for all types of products on the web. I have spent more time than I want to admit scouring all sorts of sites for information and user experiences when it comes to technology products. A slew of experts are available to provide guides, tips, and other useful information. You can also usually find manuals, drivers, accessories and other manufacturer resources long after the product has been discontinued as well. Finding this information is much more organic in nature and as with many of the resources I find it’s done through careful keyword selections entered into search engines as well as recommendations posted by users. But basically if a product is popular enough you will be able to find a community of owners that are passionate about sharing information on their product.

Well I wanted to keep this quick and to the point which is pretty difficult considering specific methods to finding product information. But as you can see it’s more about some basic concepts to follow. Hopefully this has given you some insight into improving your current process. So in review:

Additional Resources

  • Retrevo is by far the most valuable tool I have currently found to help you with all 3 steps. Retrevo is a vertical search engine for products that allows you to enter a model number and get tabbed results that provide information for Reviews, Articles, Manufacturer info (including manuals), forum and community sites, and shopping information.
  • Productwiki is a great community of passionate product lovers and definitely is worth a visit
  • AVSforum is probably the best place to get information on anyting related to Home Theaters. This includes HDTV’s, Audio Equipment, DVR’s, and much more.They have the most technically knowledgeable group of contributors in this field I have been able to find.
  • Tomshardware offers great charts to compare the performance of several computer hardware devices including Video Cards, Hard Drives, CPU’s, and Routers
  • Pricewatch is a site I’ve used to find the best pricing information for computer hardware but they also offer other products as well.
  • Crutchfield provides good audio & video product information and also offers the best product photos.
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