We all have our own opinions about politics, sports, and even technology. We all occupy our own particular neighborhoods, income brackets, and sections of the iTunes store. But the one thing we all have in common is that—whether we’re buying necessities, splurging on luxuries, or dealing with everyday financial challenges—we’re consumers.
As it has in so many other parts of our lives, the Internet has transformed the way we consume. We can now look up reviews, compare prices, and check on a vendor’s reputation, all before we pull out our credit cards or sign on the dotted line. The Web has given us voices we didn’t have in the past, to talk back to vendors and tell our fellow consumers what we think. Here are five of my favorite sites for consumer information, advocacy, and savings.
purchased by Consumers Union, the organization behind Consumer Reports. Among the most popular articles are reader reports about companies that mistreat their customers; the site has become a sort of crowd-sourced Better Business Bureau. But it also covers personal finance, the banking industry, and maintaining good credit. How influential is The Consumerist? In the past year, the site’s editors have twice had sit-down interviews with White House officials about economic and consumer issues. And horror stories about vendors are often followed up with posts along the lines of, “After The Consumerist posted my letter, the CEO of Company X contacted me directly…”
know where to go. But for everything else, the best place to start is ConsumerSearch. For a given type of product—say, LCD TVs—the editors at this meta-site gather review information from all over the Web, compile it into a comprehensive report (ranking each source by its credibility), and provide recommendations—best overall, best value, best budget, and more. A full report for each product type provides background information and useful buying advice.
safety tips. You can even report unsafe products yourself. The agency also publishes Web videos and occasional podcasts covering recalls and safety and buying tips, and there are RSS feeds and e-mail lists to keep you up to date on the latest safety information.
Dollars & Sense blog. It provides an informative and entertaining take on real-world personal finance—sensible spending, money-saving ideas, timely bargains, and consumer advocacy. As the author puts it, the blog is about “finding new ways to inject dollars, cents, and sensibility into your everyday spending.” (Disclaimer: The author of the Dollars & Sense blog is a former Macworld staff member who is married to a current Macworld staffer.)
computer and camera memory, digital cameras, and fashion, as well as a site that gathers up coupons and online coupon codes, and a “master” site that consolidates many of the other sites’ deals.