Shop smarter

In-library

Consumer Reports is published by a nonprofit organization which does not accept free items for review and does not accept advertising. The December 2019 issue now in libraries covers gifts for $50 and under, and 5 things to know when shopping on Amazon. The December 2017 issue featured a cover article "Shop smarter online." Other issues during the year run articles on related information such as online security measures. 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. 

Consider getting a virtual credit card to use for online shopping to keep your real credit card out of harm's way, or use digital payment services (and the online stores that enable them).

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.

Do not search Google and other search engines for a customer service telephone number, as you can easily be sent to a scam instead of the real one. Get to the store or brand's site first, then look for customer service. You can also try GetHuman.com.

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 another seller, Consumer Reports recommends specific ways to be cautious.

Sites for tech reviews and deals

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. The Cheapskate is a CNET blog of good deals.

Engadget – owned by a Verizon subsidiary

PCMag.com and Offers.com – owned by Ziff Davis

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

The Wirecutter – a New York Times company