Shop smarter

In-library

The Consumer Reports December issue is already in libraries, with the cover feature "Shop Smarter Online: This holiday season, avoid scams & fees, protect your privacy, beat bots, and still score discounts & deals." Other issues during the year run articles on related information such as online security measures and communications (Internet, cellular, etc.) plans. Consumer Reports is published by a nonprofit organization which does not accept free items for review and does not accept advertising. We don't have online access to the magazine, but we're happy to help you with it in the library.

Downloadable magazines

For computers and technology coverage, use our RBdigital service to download MacWorld, PC Magazine, PCWorld, Popular Mechanics, Popular ScienceSound & Vision.

Other downloadable magazines with product reviews (or at least gear round-ups) include Backpacker, Bicycling, Cooks IllustratedField & StreamGood Housekeeping, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Outside, Runner's World, Wine Enthusiast.

Websites

General tips

Be aware of some ways to spot fake customer reviews. Look for editorial reviews on reputable sites, such as the ones below. Even then, look around the site for their policy on taking payments for referred purchases, such as this affiliate link policy. Such a statement does not necessarily mean that reviews are biased, but the absence of such a statement can suggest that a site's policies and practices are not transparent.

Be careful googling products, and don't buy from unknown online stores if you're not an expert at evaluating them for safety. Try using Web of Trust (a browser extension) to help you evaluate sites. In the list of sites for ideas and deals, below, we reveal the corporate ownership of the sites. 

Ask your bank for a virtual credit card to use for online shopping to keep your real credit card out of harm's way. Maybe this can also help keep you from over-spending.

Check for a product manual and support options on the brand's website. Look around the site for customer forums, and see if the company seems responsive to customers' questions and problems.

If a product is cheaper through one online store but there’s a better return policy with another store, choose the store with the best return policy.

If you can get a refurbished item from the manufacturer with the same warranty as a brand new item, the refurbished discount may be a good deal. Sometimes a refurbished item simply means it was returned because someone decided on a different color. The returned item is cleaned and tested—possibly tested more thoroughly than new items rolling off the assembly belt. If you want to buy something refurbished through a third-party reseller, try Techrabbit or carefully evaluate the seller's return policy and whether you can purchase an additional warranty.

Sites for tech reviews

Ars Technica – owned by Conde Nast, along with wired.com

CNET – owned by CBS Interactive, along with ZDNet.com; you can sign up for newsletters and deals, and the user forum is lively and full of great questions and answers

Engadget – owned by a Verizon subsidiary

PCMag.com – owned by Ziff Davis and produced with PC Magazine

Reviewed.com – owned by USA Today

TechHive.com – owned by IDG, along with MacWorld and PCWorld; IDG also operates Greenbot, a site devoted to Android

Sites for ideas and deals

The Cheapskate  – a CNET blog of good deals

Offers.com – a Ziff Davis company, along with PCMag.com

The Wirecutter – a New York Times company