As consumers, we are bombarded with thousands (okay, that’s just a pulled out of thin air estimate…) of purchasing decisions daily. Or maybe weekly. In any case, which cell phone to buy, what plumber to hire, where to get the best sushi are just a few of the questions your average shopper might have to deal with on any given day.
Fortunately we can turn to a variety of sources to assist us in obtaining the best value for our hard-earned dollars in the form of customer reviews. Need to know if that Italian restaurant near work serves authentic marinara or stuff that tastes like Ragu? There’s a review for that. Wondering whether you should go with the Nikon COOLPIX vs. the Canon PowerShot for your nephew’s graduation present? There’s a review for that as well.
No matter what you searching for–new chiropractor, new computer or new car–here is a run down of the best review and rating sites to help you Business Ratings
Bizrate: Bizrate offers retailer ratings integrated with product search and comparison which makes it convenient to locate the best price on a specific product as well as a customer-vetted store to buy it from. The site works by finding the product you are interested in purchasing and then seeing a listing of retailers which sell it. Aggregated customer reactions from “outstanding” (smiley face with sunshine rays) to “poor” (sad, red face) can be clicked on to reveal a breakdown of rating criteria which includes overall rating, delivery time, customer service and whether the consumer loyalty. There’s also a listing of individual customer ratings with comments.
Although not so easy to locate information on a specific retailer without searching on a specific product, I have to give Bizrate kudos for quick customer survey responsiveness when I contacted them to alert them to THREE typos/misspellings on their “About Us” page. They did update their page fairly quickly (Kudos to them for the proper spelling of the possessive “its”) and it’s comforting to know consumer questions will be dealt with promptly.
Reseller Ratings: Founded before Google, Reseller Ratings has been around longer than Bizrate. The site boasts over 3/4 of a million reviews of almost 30,000 online retailers. It also offers price comparison. To reduce fraudulent reviews, they require reviewer to provide an order number to prove that they are an actual customer of a business and not some brand “shill.”
Better Business Bureau: For brick and mortar businesses and charities, BBB.org is a good resource–especially since they allow you to file a complaint against a business and will mediate the process of getting your issue resolved. I’m not sure how much faith I have in their ratings, though–a scammy auto maintenance shop that has been featured on local consumer news reports is shown to be “BBB Accredited” with an “A+” rating. These are the same guys who, rather than replacing an air filter with the correct size/brand for my vehicle, cut one down to size and neglected to reattach the vacuum hose properly. So, grain of salt… If, however, you stumble across BBB ratings that are Ds and Fs, I’d suggest running like the wind!
Yelp: Yelp was mentioned by a number of my co-workers as a way to track down good restaurants, but as Tiara points out it’s a great resource for finding the best (and avoiding the worst) of just about anything in your local area–or to suss out new haunts while traveling:
“Yelp is my go-to review place for almost everything but especially restaurants. Being a vegetarian, it’s hard to find, say, a good sushi place, but Yelp rarely lets me down. I’ve discovered some amazing gems–not only for food, but for my dentist, safe parks, car guy, and bicycle shops.”
I’ll add chiropractor and hair salon to that list. There are over 18 million reviews on Yelp (up by one million since I started research for this post…) covering 160+ cities and 22 categories.
Allegra likes Yelp as well stating:
“I use www.yelp.com for restaurants and most customer service-oriented businesses. I like Yelp because it makes it easy to see patterns in word use throughout user reviews, so you can see what people say repeatedly about that business.”
That “word usage pattern” is very helpful as often times review sites can be gamed. But if there’s a pattern of reviewers who complain about slow service or who rave about the veal scallopini, chances are you should heed that information.
Citysearch: Although these days it seems like Citysearch is more like “Yelp 1.0,” with over 75,000 locations nationwide covered, it’s still a good resource for finding good restaurants, bars and clubs in your neighborhood. They also have a pretty comprehensive directory of businesses and services–from arts and entertainment to insurance adjusters–with both editorial and customer reviews and ratings.
Angie’s List: Brian recommends this resource for professional services which are hard to get real info on, e.g. plumbers, contractors, doctors, etc. Angie’s List is a subscriber-based service and companies can’t pay to get on the list. There are ratings and reviews in over 500 categories by non-anonymous users (over 40,000 submitted monthly) which are referenced by over one million members. The fee basis dependent on market area, is monthly or annual and subscribers can choose just regular Angie’s List (services for home, car, pets, etc.), just the health and wellness option (physicians and other health care practitioners and facilities) or the bundled version.
Restaurants: In addition to Yelp! or CitySearch, Brian recommends UrbanSpoon (think Yelp.com but for eating establishments only) for sussing out stellar sustenance options. He also says their mobile app is awesome for finding restaurants in walking distance. Jon adds that Foursquare Tips is a great way to get a quick recs on the run.
Another option is Zagat.com. Their famed guides are based on a 30-point rating system compiling the opinions of 350,000 surveyors all over the world. The online website works like Citysearch or Yelp in that you can do a search for a specific restaurant, type of cuisine, etc. in whatever location you choose and read various reviews. If the restaurant was “Member-added,” you’ll have to skim through the reviews to get a sense of whether or not it’s worth eating there as there are no overall stats. “Zagat-rated” establishments indicate what percentage of reviewers “liked” it in addition to the written comments. If you want the detailed dirt with scores on food, decor, service and cost, you’ll need to cough up $24.95 per year for a subscription.
While researching which restaurants offer the best Chateau Briand, most extensive wine list or friendliest service, another important factor in selecting a food establishment is their health inspection rating. AllFoodBusiness.com has compiled links to all the restaurant business inspection scores posted online by local health departments.
Books: Well, of course there are the book reviews on Amazon.com, duh. Other than that, the website for Kirkus Reviews features reviews for 300,000 titles dating back to 1933. Access to reviews of published books is free, but if you want access to the more than 500 pre-publication book reviews available each month, you’ll have to sign up for a $169 – 229.00 annual subscription.
GoodReads, however, would be my recommendation (as well as Peter’s) for finding the next novel to put on your reading list. It features more than 160 million recommendations from over 5 million users. It has a social networking aspect to it in that you can view your friends “bookshelves” as well as start/join discussion groups or book clubs, etc. No friends on GoodReads? Not a problem–you can search for other members with similar taste in books and glean recommendations that way as well.
Movies/DVDs: Allegra and Scott recommend Metacritic for film reviews, with Allegra saying “I like them because their reviews are usually pretty intelligent, and I generally end up agreeing with a movie’s rating.” It works by aggregation the review scores of numerous critics into a single Metascore as well as allowing users opinions.
Like Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes aggregates critic reviews into one overall score that determines whether a movie is “fresh.” To obtain a “fresh” rating, a movie must achieve a 75% positive rating from 40 or more Tomatometer critics including five top critics and maintain a rating of at least 60% overall.
If you’re looking for information geared towards whether a specific movie or DVD is suitable for kid-viewing, Parent Previews grades flicks for potentially problematic content such as violence, sexual content, language and drugs/alcohol depiction.
Another movie review option is Netflix as suggested by Peter who said “Even though Netflix is a pay service, their user-generated rating system is great.” (The user generated reviews = not bad, the automated recommendations = not so great. Dear Netflix, just because I liked “The Color Purple” and the comedy genre, does not mean that Sister Act II: Back in the Habit should be in my queue!) Sure, you’ll have to sign up for the service to peruse user reviews, but chances are you’re already a subscriber.
Last, as recommended by Ed (and myself) there’s always IMDB for user ratings for movies and TV shows. For recently released fare, Metacritics and Rotten Tomatoes are your best bets. Netflix and IMDB are better used for DVD rentals or purchases.
TV: Metacritic and IMDB.com offer plenty of reviews for television shows.
Music: Metacritic also houses music reviews and of course there’s Amazon for feedback on albums and singles–plus you can also find user ratings on iTunes.
Video Games: In addition to Metacritic, both Guy and Joe Z. recommend Gamespot for video game reviews. According to Joe, “Combines both expert reviews and user reviews. Keeps a leaderboard of the games with the highest scores.” There are approximately 12,000 video games reviewed at Gamespot (when you factor in each relevant platform) and users can search reviews by platform and genre.
Wine: WineSpectator.com offers 248,000 ratings, but is subscription-based costing $49.95 a year. However, you can peruse wines at Wine.com and get the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits ratings (if applicable) for a specific vintage.
Travel: TripAdvisor was a popular recommendation among my co-workers. According to David, “It’s good for hotels and if you generally cut off the very best and worst reviews you can get a decent idea of the median.”
David’s point about throwing out the best and worst reviews is a good one–especially given a recent Consumerist post about a hotel that advertised for people to post fake positive reviews.
The site operates in 27 countries across the globe and boasts over 45 million reviews.
CruiseCritic.com offers “objective cruise reviews on over 275 ships, more than 60 cruise line profiles, information on what to do and where to go in 200+ worldwide ports and readers’ ship ratings and reviews, cruise bargains and cruise tips.”
Amazon.com: Given their extensive inventory of product offerings, Amazon is a great resource for product reviews–whether or not you choose to actually purchase the product from them. I research Amazon reviews frequently, as do a number of my co-workers including Derek who said,
“…a few weeks ago I was looking for a new media player, and wanted to see owner feedback specifically on how well each model streamed different video formats from an external hard drive. The search feature within the reviews for every Amazon product was really useful for that.“
Of course, as with any customer reviews, you should make sure to take Amazon customer reviews with a grain of salt–dismissing the overly positive brand shills as well as the irrelevant ranters at the negative end of the spectrum.
Where they are many 1 star reviews, it makes sense to actually read what it is the reviewers are complaining about. Often it’s not the actual product that elicits poor feedback, but slow shipping or other factor. And, as TechCrunch has noted, another flaw of the Amazon customer review system is that the reviewer isn’t required to have purchased the product in order to review it. Of course this loophole has an entertaining upside as exemplified by the notorious Tuscan Whole Milk reviews.
Buzzillions: This site is operated by PowerReviews which provides the customer review platform for over 5,000 websites including drugstore.com, SmartBargains, Ulta, Adorama, Onlineshoes.com, REI and Staples. The customer review data input into these various is then aggregated via Buzzillions which boasts over 15 million reviews for over 900,000 products in categories such as electronics, computers, sports, home and garden, health and beauty, clothing, shoes, toys, baby and books.
Epinions: An off-shoot of shopping comparison, Shopping.com, Epinions has reviews for millions of products in 30 different categories including cars, books, movies, electronics, home and garden, kids and baby, etc. Reviewers can earn money for helping users make sound purchasing decisions via their reviews–both positive and negative.
Personally, I found this site difficult to use. For example, for “Apple iPhone 3G White (32 GB) Smartphone” it says there are 5 consumer reviews, but when you click to read those reviews, it says there are no reviews yet and to write the first review. Um, what?
Consumer Reports: According to Jill, this is a great source to research before making a big purchase:
“I’m also old school and still use Consumer Reports…I usually use [them] for big purchase items…cars, but they have everything from pots/pans to cameras, cribs, etc. They rank amongst so many important criteria you can really see what consumers think…and I’ve always agreed with them after making purchases…”
Old school or not, Consumer Reports is great for objective feedback (they buy the products they test themselves and accept no advertising) and lab-tested product ratings. And Jill is hardly alone: CR has over 3 million subscribers–which is perhaps the only downside to utilizing them. The subscription fee is pretty reasonable though: $26 annually for access to the site or $5.95 per month. If you’re already a subscriber to their print magazine, annual online access will cost you only $19. Seems a small price to pay to avoid wasting money on a lemon…
ConsumerSearch is a curated ratings and review site owned by About.com. According to the site, they only collect the “best” reviews so the site isn’t exactly comprehensive. A search for my cellphone, the Motorola Cliq, turned up zero results.
In addition to the sites mentioned above, here are a few others that focus solely on consumer electronics:
CNET: A number of my co-workers cited CNET as a source for reviews for electronics/tech. The nice thing about CNET Reviews is that they combine an expert/editor’s review along side user ratings. While Amazon has them beat in terms of sheer inventory, the editor’s rating are a nice addition plus they excel at providing feedback for downloads–freeware, shareware, paid software applications–as well as links to the applications.
Newegg: Several people in the office gave a shout out to Newegg as a resource for gadget reviews. There are almost 2.4 million reviews on consumer electronics from computer hardware to coffee makers and according to Savings.comer Alan:
“Good, unbiased reviews and gives me a lot of confidence buying something tech, even if I’m not buying from Newegg (if I’ve found it cheaper elsewhere), I’ll use their review database to compare products I’m interested in.”
dpreview.com: If you winnow down “consumer electronics” to one categories–digital cameras–you have one of head tech guy Joe Z’s favorite review sites. Says he:
“Very detailed reviews, from experts. I tend to trust expert reviews over reviews from people who probably know less about the product than I do.”
Owned by Amazon.com, there are currently around 400 detailed reviews of various digital cameras on dpreview.com.
Jacob S. recommends Zappos and Shoes.com to find user reviews on shoes–especially regarding fit. It should be noted, however, that Zappos hired an outside firm to edit customer reviews with regard to typos, spelling and grammatical errors. Amy says the customer reviews on Piperlime are “very helpful” for making buying decisions for shoes and purses.
There really isn’t one review source for clothing since many popular brands are exclusive to one source (Gap, Old Navy, etc.), but beauty products are another matter.
In addition to Buzzillions (which aggregates Drugstore.com reviews among others), Sephora has over 975,000 reviews of the over 13,000 products they carry. Ulta offers over 127,000 reviews of over 7,000 products. But the cosmetic and skin care review champion in my opinion is MakeUpAlley which boasts almost two millions reviews of over 121,000 products. You need to be a member of the site to access the reviews, but it’s totally free to sign up.
In addition to ConsumerReports.org, you can find reputable vehicle information from the following sites:
Edmunds.com: In addition to editorial car reviews and road tests, there are also customer reviews of cars and dealerships. Edmunds is an excellent resource for anyone in the market for a new (or new to you) vehicle as the site offers a wealth of information on maintenance costs and recalls, dealer pricing and how to negotiate a fair deal on a car.
J.D. Power: This marketing research firm has been conducting customer satisfaction ratings for over 40 years for a range of consumer categories such as electronics, finance, insurance and travel, but there are primarily known for their new car quality and dependability ratings. J.D. Power ratings factor in quality, performance and design, reliability and sales and service.
Car and Driver: The famed publication for automotive aficionados doesn’t offer customer reviews, but it does have loads of advice from experts. The Car and Driver website allows users to search out editorial reviews by make, model and year or by editor’s picks or most searched by category.
TireRack.com: This is a rec from Jacob S. for those wanted to research new tires for their vehicle. TireRack.com has test and survey results and over 120,000 user reviews across 16 different tire makers.
Health Care Providers
Yelp.com and Angie’s List are two good sources to find a physician, dentist, chiropractor, etc. There are, however, a number of other sites which specifically compile reviews of health care providers. Some even target a particular specialty. Here are some options for researching health professionals:
1-800-Dentist: You’ve probably seen the commercials for this site, but the dentists included on the site pay for the service. There are very few patient reviews available, so finding a practitioner that accepts your insurance and is in your area is about the best you can expect from 1-800-Dentist.
Health Grades: HealthGrades.com provides objective ratings by healthcare analysis experts of 5,000 hospitals according to specialty, 620,000 physicians in 110 specialties, 15,000 nursing homes and 6,000 home health agencies. No patient reviews.
RateMDs.com: From the people who brought you RateMyProfessors, RateMyTeacher and Ratingz.com, RateMDs has over one million ratings of over 277,000 doctors. There’s even a separate site to rate therapists, TherapistsRatingz.com.
Vitals.com: As far as ratings inventory goes, Vitals.com is probably the most impressive. According to their website, they offer “1.4 billion data points from 17,000 data sources, 14 million doctor affiliations, 2.4 million doctor publications, 1 million patient ratings, 720,000 active, licensed doctor profiles, and 400,000 medical expertise categories.“
As far as health care providers are concerned, your best resource are friends, co-workers and family. Ask them if they like the doctor or dentist they see regularly. (If you need a recommendation for a doctor, dentist, chiropractor or optometrist in the Santa Monica or West L.A. area, I can set you up...)
As is true of most customer reviews, those with an ax to grind are more likely to put forth the effort to make their opinion known than those without. As one forum member points out, however, if there’s a recurring theme across all reviews (roach problem, slow maintenance, excessive noise) it’s best to take that to heart. There are a number of apartment rating sites, but few have a significant inventory of properties to be useful. ApartmentRatings.com is perhaps the biggest with the most reviews available.
Here are some more tips for using apartment rating sites from the Metafilter users.
RateMyApartments is another housing review site, but geared towards on and off-campus college housing.
As far as narrowing down which college, university or trade school is best for you, there are a number of sites that offer student ratings. Unigo has over 50,000 reviews and features every four-year college in the country. StudentAdvisor is a subsidiary of the Washington Post that allows users to run comparisons on a number of possibilities. They are a little light on user reviews, however. My Alma Mater, West Virginia University, has over 25,000 students enrolled annually, but only FIVE reviews on StudentAdvisor.com.
CollegeProwler, on the other hand, has HUNDREDS of reviews for WVU. There are over 240,000 reviews of almost 7,000 schools on the site so it’s probably the best resource for researching higher education options.
If you’re already enrolled, RateMyProfessors might help you weed out the teachers with tortuous syllabi or droning bores from easy graders or charismatic presenters. RateMyTeachers.com does the same at the undergraduate level.
In addition to BBB.org, there are a number of sources to research scams or other bad customer experiences as well as offer the opportunity to post your own rant. RipOffReport is probably the most active, but you can also check out Complaints.com and PissedConsumer.com. Keep in mind these sites only focus on the negative. For both positive and negative experiences–as well as a mechanism to make your feedback known, Planet Feedback not only collects rants and raves but forwards it to the company in question and gives users the options to send their thoughts to friends, family and even legislators.
For info on financial products and institutions, Consumer Reports is probably your best source for unbiased information. J.D. Power also has specific sections dedicated to finance and insurance products and companies. In addition, check out these resources:
- BankTruth.org compiles bank rates, ratings and reviews.
- Lending Tree has customer ratings and reviews of its lenders.
- NerdWallet allows users to compare over 1,700 credit cards and was named one of the 20 best money websites by CNNMoney.
Ratingz.net is a listing of review sites for topics from Accountants to Vets.
GoodGuide lists the health, environmental and social ratings of over 115,000 products.
If you’re thinking about relocating, BestPlaces.net helps compare cost of living, crime rates and other factors in U.S. cities. And before you hire a company to transport your worldly possessions to your new digs, check out MyMovingReviews.com.
Glassdoor.com is a helpful resource job seekers who wish to research company culture (the good, the bad and the ugly) prior to applying or accepting an offer.
What sites do you use to make good consumer decisions?