Learning How to Be a Discerning Consumer


For as long as there have been products for sale, there have been people to sell them. And as long as there have been selling things, they’ve been making claims about how well those products worked.

The most effective techniques for making a sale usually involve providing some type of product information to help convert a would-be buyer into a buyer. The various claims that the salespeople make about their products, though, can be dubious at best. Indeed, this practice can become so outrageous that it has led to a wide array of government regulations that strictly limit what kind of claims can be made.

Because those provisions are in place, many consumers assume incorrectly that anything they hear or read about a product is true. That is not always the case. We should all be vigilant about the products and services we buy and make sure that we don’t fall victim to unproven and outrageous claims.

Language is a big part of this issue. Certain words are very easy to use without any backing. For example, a company can say that their product is “better” or even “the best” without anything more than a carefully-managed pool of customer feedback to back it up, perhaps from a customer survey. If you’ve ever done one of those, you know how easy it is simply to check “outstanding” on every line and turn it in. And those terms are opinions; one person may prefer one brand of soda while another hates it.

Look instead for products that address product attributes in a way that has good scientific backing. A neutral third party is always a great source of data because the techniques and technology needed for beauty product testing, electrical products, and other highly-specialized products are most affordable to independent firms that do a lot of that type of work. Reviews that are driven by those techniques are the most reliable and unbiased.

Of course, don’t ignore your instincts. Think about whether a product’s claims really make sense before believing them. Think about competition; if one product claims to do things that are far beyond what any other company is offering, chances are that the claims really are too good to be true. The buyer should always beware.

Remember that claims need to be specific. Any product can claim it will make you feel better because if you expect it to do so, you will convince yourself that it has. It’s called the placebo effect, and it’s widely used in scientific research for just that reason. A placebo is a sugar pill given to some participants in medical research trials when others are receiving the actual drug. Only the researchers know who received which pill, and any positive results seen in the sugar pill group are attributed to the placebo effect, the belief that whatever they were receiving would help them.

We buy countless products in our lifetimes. It can be overwhelming to spend too much time doing deep customer research on every one of them. But if we arm ourselves with a basic knowledge of what kinds of claims are believable and substantive, we will be better prepared to shop for whatever we need without such a high risk of being deceived. Scientific backing always wins over hype and flash.

Previous How should the internet of things save the planet?
Next Intro to IoT – 9 Major Keys to the Internet of Things