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Researching with Amazon – or How I Learned to Silence the Voices

I realize that this is only the second column, and the first that really has any “meat” to it, the previous entry being introductory and filled with such nonsensical items as infant rocket packs and ideas with amazing potential I am actively pursuing to the possible detriment of my buddy’s pool. But today my intention is to shed light on “the process,” by which I attempt to silence the voices (in particular Gothar the Remorser) that echo in my skull when I intend to make a reasonably important purchase. It’s true that in some ways this is akin to violating the magician’s code, spilling the secrets of Lost (Island = Fantasy Island, Ben = Tattoo), or at least giving away the ending of Titanic (sunk by angry narwhals), but I think it’s important for you to know where I’m coming from as this column ventures into more specific product territories.
After many years, many resources and several lengthy hallucinations in an isolation tank, I’ve come to rely on one site for the majority of my product research: Amazon.com. (In the interests of disclosure, I should mention that I do have an Amazon.com credit card, which unfortunately is not at all benefited by this entry) Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer (and river, but that’s beside the point), and it’s popularity provides it with a number of key things – a) they sell almost every conceivable consumer product b) a bazillion customers and c) they have a fairly decent user review system that provides good raw material for product research (and also occasionally laughs).
Here’s the basic process I follow using Amazon as my research tool:
1) Determine what it is I’m actually buying
To be honest, I rarely seem to be involved in this step.
2) Determine the price range that I am looking for, if any
I usually have some say here, if for no other reason than it is my wallet that is taking the hit. I will say though that I am often overruled by the infamous twin arguments of “safety has no price” and “how can you put a cost on your child’s happiness?” Well there is and I can, but in the interests of my own personal safety(from my wife) I generally am not allowed to.
3) Head over to Amazon.com and find at least one example of the item, regardless of price
This is really just an entry point to finding similar items in different price ranges. If you are interested in boosting your ego, choose the least expensive version first, then loudly declare that “this won’t do for my little baby.”
4) Use the “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” widget on the item page to find other products that fall more into the price range I am looking to buy at
Then I zero in one that looks promising, or at least one with flame decals and/or racing stripes.
5) Check out the customer review ratings
My process is first to get an overall sense of satisfaction by looking at the star rankings they have – if most of the rating are 4 or 5 stars, then it’s worth a look. If you are seeing a majority of 3 stars or less then you may want to look elsewhere (depending on the number of reviews). Once I’ve found one that has generally good ratings, it’s time to dive into the actual customer reviews themselves.
6) Start perusing the customer reviews
This is for me the heart of the research. Yes, you can read professional reviews (Consumer Reports, Parents Magazine, Toddler JetSki Quarterly) and those are great for narrowing down what features are essential, but I find on the whole they don’t uncover product “foibles” as reliably as folks that have purchased and used the items in their daily lives.
The people that post reviews generally fall into two categories: Billy Mays-esque folks raving about how this duck-shaped soap dispenser saved their child’s life and started them on a life-long journey as mallard enthusiasts, or Howard Beale shouting from the window that he’s “mad as hell, and not going to take this short battery life and the unrealistic aninmal sounds that emanate from this MechaniCow any more.” Both can provide valuable insights, assuming they actually qualify their entries with useful information, rather than the folks who seem to delight in short entries that declare things like “Totally awesome” and “This sux.”
What I’ve found is that by skimming through the reviews, both glowing and not as glowing, you’ll uncover certain trends will emerge – the aforementioned “foibles” people run into over time. Almost all products, no matter how amazing, have issues and they will come across in the reviews. Maybe the car seat you are looking at is really big, or the stroller latch detaches too easily, or the ejection seat on the Radio Flyer has too much of a hair trigger. Culling these issues can give you a complete view of what you are trying to buy, and help you decide between competing models.
7) Make a decision
In the end, I try to choose the product that has the best overall ratings (that’s a no-brainer), the features I am looking for, but also one whose particular issues I can either live with or ignore. So despite the great reviews, I might avoid that amazing car seat that is so big it would require me to remove the front passenger seat from my Honda CR-V for instance, or choose a different infant beer tasting set because the top ranked one focuses too much on domestic brands.
8) Never look back
This is the key to keeping Gothar locked up in the mind-cage where he lives – if I’ve done the research and made a purchase then the process ends for me – until it’s time to replace it I don’t go back and look at other versions of what I’ve bought. There’s really no point other than to torture yourself if something new or better comes along, which invariably will happen minutes after you finished checking out.

And that’s my process – it’s by no means rocket science, or even bottle rocket science, but it has served me well over the last few years and hopefully gives you a few pointers as you do your own research in pursuit of the ultimate bouncy chair, baby monitor, or infant deep fat fryer. Now that you know how I go about researching products, let me throw it out to you – how do you keep your own Gothar (or in your case possibly Jimba the Rueful or even Johnny

Regrets) at bay?

This is a repost of my column on Dad Blogs, Armed And Fatherly, copied here as part of an ongoing effort to archive my various musings that biographers and/or Presidential librarians will probably someday want easy access to.  This particular one is my second, originally posted May 5th, 2009.

I realize that this is only the second column, and the first that really has any “meat” to it, the previous entry being introductory and filled with such nonsensical items as infant rocket packs and ideas with amazing potential I am actively pursuing to the possible detriment of my buddy’s pool. But today my intention is to shed light on “the process,” by which I attempt to silence the voices (in particular Gothar the Remorser) that echo in my skull when I intend to make a reasonably important purchase. It’s true that in some ways this is akin to violating the magician’s code, spilling the secrets of Lost (Island = Fantasy Island, Ben = Tattoo), or at least giving away the ending of Titanic (sunk by angry narwhals), but I think it’s important for you to know where I’m coming from as this column ventures into more specific product territories.

After many years, many resources and several lengthy hallucinations in an isolation tank, I’ve come to rely on one site for the majority of my product research: Amazon.com. (In the interests of disclosure, I should mention that I do have an Amazon.com credit card, which unfortunately is not at all benefited by this entry) Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer (and river, but that’s beside the point), and it’s popularity provides it with a number of key things – a) they sell almost every conceivable consumer product b) a bazillion customers and c) they have a fairly decent user review system that provides good raw material for product research (and also occasionally laughs).

Here’s the basic process I follow using Amazon as my research tool:

1) Determine what it is I’m actually buying

To be honest, I rarely seem to be involved in this step.

2) Determine the price range that I am looking for, if any

I usually have some say here, if for no other reason than it is my wallet that is taking the hit. I will say though that I am often overruled by the infamous twin arguments of “safety has no price” and “how can you put a cost on your child’s happiness?” Well there is and I can, but in the interests of my own personal safety(from my wife) I generally am not allowed to.

3) Head over to Amazon.com and find at least one example of the item, regardless of price

This is really just an entry point to finding similar items in different price ranges. If you are interested in boosting your ego, choose the least expensive version first, then loudly declare that “this won’t do for my little baby.”

4) Use the “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” widget on the item page to find other products that fall more into the price range I am looking to buy at

Then I zero in one that looks promising, or at least one with flame decals and/or racing stripes.

5) Check out the customer review ratings

My process is first to get an overall sense of satisfaction by looking at the star rankings they have – if most of the rating are 4 or 5 stars, then it’s worth a look. If you are seeing a majority of 3 stars or less then you may want to look elsewhere (depending on the number of reviews). Once I’ve found one that has generally good ratings, it’s time to dive into the actual customer reviews themselves.

6) Start perusing the customer reviews

This is for me the heart of the research. Yes, you can read professional reviews (Consumer Reports, Parents Magazine, Toddler JetSki Quarterly) and those are great for narrowing down what features are essential, but I find on the whole they don’t uncover product “foibles” as reliably as folks that have purchased and used the items in their daily lives.

The people that post reviews generally fall into two categories: Billy Mays-esque folks raving about how this duck-shaped soap dispenser saved their child’s life and started them on a life-long journey as mallard enthusiasts, or Howard Beale shouting from the window that he’s “mad as hell, and not going to take this short battery life and the unrealistic animal sounds that emanate from this MechaniCow any more.” Both can provide valuable insights, assuming they actually qualify their entries with useful information, rather than the folks who seem to delight in short entries that declare things like “Totally awesome” and “This sux.”

What I’ve found is that by skimming through the reviews, both glowing and not as glowing, you’ll uncover certain trends will emerge – the aforementioned “foibles” people run into over time. Almost all products, no matter how amazing, have issues and they will come across in the reviews. Maybe the car seat you are looking at is really big, or the stroller latch detaches too easily, or the ejection seat on the Radio Flyer has too much of a hair trigger. Culling these issues can give you a complete view of what you are trying to buy, and help you decide between competing models.

7) Make a decision

In the end, I try to choose the product that has the best overall ratings (that’s a no-brainer), the features I am looking for, but also one whose particular issues I can either live with or ignore. So despite the great reviews, I might avoid that amazing car seat that is so big it would require me to remove the front passenger seat from my Honda CR-V for instance, or choose a different infant beer tasting set because the top ranked one focuses too much on domestic brands.

8  ) Never look back

This is the key to keeping Gothar locked up in the mind-cage where he lives – if I’ve done the research and made a purchase then the process ends for me – until it’s time to replace it I don’t go back and look at other versions of what I’ve bought. There’s really no point other than to torture yourself if something new or better comes along, which invariably will happen minutes after you finished checking out.

And that’s my process – it’s by no means rocket science, or even bottle rocket science, but it has served me well over the last few years and hopefully gives you a few pointers as you do your own research in pursuit of the ultimate bouncy chair, baby monitor, or infant deep fat fryer. Now that you know how I go about researching products, let me throw it out to you – how do you keep your own Gothar (or in your case possibly Jimba the Rueful or even Johnny Regrets) at bay?

Posted in Armed and Fatherly.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    The internet is great in so may ways. Amazon is a great place to read reviews becaue they have so many. Any site with just a few reviews is pointless. You need enough to average out the crazies.

  • http://heirapparent.frantzylvania.com mwfrantz

    Exactly – I used to comb everywhere looking for reviews, but Amazon is
    basically it now for precisely that reason – averagin' out the crazies…
    Mark

  • http://heirapparent.frantzylvania.com mwfrantz

    Exactly – I used to comb everywhere looking for reviews, but Amazon is
    basically it now for precisely that reason – averagin' out the crazies…
    Mark