If you’ve ever wandered into one of the big box stores like Target, BestBuy, or Sears and tried to figure out how to select the best appliance or tech gadget brand to buy, you’re not alone.  With the advent to a variety of excellent consumer product review sites, shopping patterns have changed. Most purchases are proceeded by navigating the proliferation of specs, critic reviews, and user feedback that’s available on the web. When you mix in mobile trends, you ramp up the potential for confusion. Before you hit the stores, here are our recommendations for getting the best information online to vet any brand or product.

Check professional review sites: Depending upon what type of item you’re buying, from a washer and dryer to a high-end computer, there’s a site out there that’s dedicated to reviewing it. Some of our favorites are CNet, Euronics.co.uk, and ConsumerSearch. These sites independently evaluate products and give critical reviews. Often, the feedback is based on hours of testing out the products so you don’t have to.

Spend some time reading user reviews: Another really useful thing to do is find the “reviews” tab on whatever eCommerce site you’re perusing and see what people are saying about the product.  A quick skim will give you an idea of how well it’s performing.  If you check out Amazon for example, the number of reviews that fall into each of the 1, 2, 3,4, and 5 star categories are indicative.  Generally, I read the 1s and 2s first.  What do people blatantly hate about the product, or what really went wrong? This, along with people who are just annoying, tend to comprise the lowest rankings.

Then I check out the 3s and 4s.  I interpret their feedback through the lens of someone who likes the product but also see ways to improve it, missing features, etc. Finally, I look at the fives. You have to ignore the reviews of friends and Grandmas – but a lot of sincere fives can answer a crucial question: what differentiates this product from the competition?  Why are the passionate fans truly passionate?

Visit the manufacturer’s website: This can be an easy one to overlook with all the other info available online. But the manufacturer’s website gives you a good indication of what they think people love about the product, what problem it’s intended to solve, and how to quantify its unique benefits. If very minute details about specifications matter, this is the place to find it.  You can also get more info about things like warranty and specialized customer service or repairs if it’s relevant to your needs.

Price compare: Do a quick price comparison online to get an idea of the range of fair prices. Don’t forget that online options might have hidden shipping costs. Still, a look at 2 or 3 websites or a 30 second price check on Google Shopping can save you from getting swindled.

So before you wander into your local home appliance or electronics store and put your purchasing fate in the hands of a teenage salesperson, do a little digging. Check out what the professional reviewers have to say, whether the end users love it or hate it, and what you can expect in terms of warranty and price.  Armed with this information, you can feel confident you’re making a smart buying decision.

For the latest in consumer product reviews in the UK, please visit http://www.euronics.co.uk/.