Product review sites are a relatively new phenomenon. Like so much else, they’re a creation of the internet, which made it possible for people in all parts of the world to chime in and share their opinions of the goods and services they purchased.
But human nature being what it is, many sites suffer from a lack of credibility. They are too often completely unmoderated or, even worse, manipulated to make sponsors and underwriters look good. There is also a vast community of “influencers,” which in another time would have been called shills.
While some review sites are better than others, it’s local businesses that are often the biggest offenders at trying to control what their customers say. The Federal Trade Commission has rules against intimidating customers or restricting what they can say about the service they received.
“If you have a signed form contract that restricts you from sharing reviews or penalizes you for doing that, the business may not be able to enforce those restrictions,” the agency advises.
In January 2022, the FTC put some teeth into it and fined Fashion Nova $4.2 million for blocking negative reviews on its site.
Best Review Sites
Here, in our estimation, are a few of the best review sites, offering useful, accurate and relatively unbiased information.
With more than 6 million members, Consumer Reports’ non-profit parent organization is the grandparent of consumer reviews. Founded in 1936, it provides unbiased, evidence-based reviews of everything from cars to vacuum cleaners. Digital membership is $10 per month.
ConsumerAffairs has been providing product reviews and consumer news and safety recall information since 1998. It has an accreditation program that enables companies to engage directly with consumers who file reviews or comments about their products. The site is free. It does not have advertising but is compensated for certain clicks and inquiries.
No, it’s not a guide to getting rid of your cable TV service. Though perhaps oddly named, Wirecutter brings the clout and credibility of The New York Times to product reviews despite a certain gee-whiz atmosphere that wears a bit thin after awhile. The ad-free site goes out of its way to explain the rationale for each recommendation. It’s free and, like many other sites, gets paid when readers click on certain links.
Everybody knows about Yelp, right? It’s the king of the local review sites. Anything from barber shops to plastic surgeons is fair game for Yelpers. It’s something of a free-for-all but the sheer quantity of information makes it worth checking for just about any purchase. It’s free, but with lots of ads and paid listings.
Amazon a review site? Yes and in fact, it’s probably the biggest and most influential review site anywhere. Millions of consumers leave reviews of products they purchased on the site and, although there is always room for skullduggery, most are legitimate and can be extremely helpful in making a buying decision. It’s free.