A Guide to Better Online Shopping: Finding the Best Price and Wading Through Reviews

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This guide is going to focus on two areas. The first will show how reviews work on sites such as Amazon. While I know Amazon isn't the main source for airsoft gear, many people such as myself use it to buy ammo and accessories since you can usually get free Prime shipping. My hope for this section is that you will leave with a better understanding of how companies can manipulate reviews to "trick" the buyer. While I focus mainly on Amazon, this applies to pretty much any site that has a user review program. The second topic which will be covered is what is known as price anchoring. This is a much smaller topic, and would not warrant its own guide, so I am throwing it in here.

I have been wanting to do a little write-up on this topic for a while, but am just now getting around to it. I should probably talk about my qualifications in this area before beginning the guide. I have been reviewing products on Amazon for several years now, but have been doing "active reviewing" for about a year. I am a member of several review sites, and I have companies contact me personally for reviews. I pride myself in writing detailed, and honest reviews of products. I have an Amazon Top Reviewer status and am ranked #15,XXX out of millions of reviewers.

The purpose of this is to spread awareness to both new and old buyers alike who use Amazon as a shopping platform. To help them ensure that the reviews of the product they are buying are an honest reflection of the actual product.

In recent years this has become a bigger problem on Amazon with the creation of large review sites that allow sellers to give away free or discounted items in exchange for "honest" reviews. In the majority of situations, at best these reviews are unintentionally biased as the person has a more favorable opinion of the product since they received it at a hefty discount. At worst the review will be an outright lie. Previously these review sites required the review to being placed a week-to-ten days after an order was placed, which meant the person did not have time to test the product in order to leave an honest review. Thus they would leave a favorable review in hopes of getting more discounted products.

Thankfully in recent months Amazon has rewritten the rules to disallow companies from requiring a review in exchange for a discounted product; however, they can still encourage it. The majority of reviewers still leave a review so the problem persists.

So here is the issue. A new company opens up and buys a bulk product off of DHGate or some similar Chinese wholesale site. In this example lets say he is buying jewelry (a common one among new sellers and you see them being advertised on review sites ALL THE TIME!) So each piece of jewelry is costing him $2.00, and he places it on Amazon for $20.00. He goes on a review site and allows reviewers to purchase the item at a discount for $4.00 (this covers his item cost and shipping). Let's say he gives out 100 of these discounts; reviewers will jump at a chance to get what they perceive as nice jewelry for a fraction of the cost. Let's assume 80/100 will leave a favorable review. Now when a normal buyer comes along he sees this item has quite a few good reviews, things like "beautiful piece of jewelry, my girlfriend loves it" or "box store quality at a fraction of the price." So he buys it based on the reviews and gives it to his girlfriend/wife/whoever. After a month the chain will most likely break, or the jewel will probably become cloudy (speaking from experience on both, I learned the hard way). He is now outside of the return window, and the cheapness of the item now shows. He may leave a negative review, but it will do little in the sea of positive ones the seller has gained through his discounted promotion.

So here is the solution that I have recently been using, and it has worked quite well so far. There are two websites that help sift through reviews to tell you if they are legit or not:

I prefer the Fakespot, and have had the best luck with it, but both can be used to help you decide which product to buy.

For a little case study with an airsoft product lets look at the following example. Let's say a newbie has just gotten into the sport and is looking for eye and face protection. He goes onto Amazon and searches something along the lines of "airsoft protection, " and the following comes up as the top result because of the numerous 5-star reviews:

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On the surface, this looks like a pretty good product. It's cheap and has good reviews, so why wouldn't you buy it? However, once we put it into the Fakespot review program we see that the majority of the reviews are either low quality (people review after immediately getting the product and have not had time to test) or they are overly positive (meaning they have most likely been compensated in some way for writing the review). Here is what Fakespot shows us:

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Common Categories where fake reviews are most present:
Electronics (Cell phone cases, chargers, and screen protectors)
Jewelry (Especially lower end jewelry that is considered "Costume" quality)
Cheap Clothing
Cheap watches
Cheap computer items (mouses, USB drives, sd cards, etc.)
Cheap airsoft accessories such as protection gear, scopes, gloves, etc.

For other sites (such as airsoft websites) this process can be done manually. When you look through reviews here are a few things you can look for that will be indicators of a low quality, or biased review:
-Overuse of positive words (examples are perfect, great, awesome, amazing, etc)
-Obvious lack of testing (Example: "I just received this product today and it looks amazing")
-Admitting being offered incentives for the review. (While this isn't a end-all sign of a bad review, it is harder to be objective when you are being given a free or discounted product)
-Obvious lack of experience (you can usually disregard reviews that are along the lines of "This gun is great is shoots 500 FPS with .20s out of the box" Anything they say after this point is probably not going to be useful to you as a buyer)

Hopefully this guide will help prevent you from wasting money on deceiving products. I have been writing honest reviews on Amazon for over a year now, and have reviewed over 200 products with a Top Rated Reviewer Status rank #15,XXX. All of what is contained in this guide are from my experiences and observations during my time spent in this area of study.

If you want to help contribute to making Amazon a better buying platform for everyone here is what you can do to help. (1) After buying a product and using it for a week or so ALWAYS go back and leave a review. It doesn't have to be long, or overly detailed, just let others know what you liked about the product. (2) When leaving a review think "What did I want to know/would have liked to known about this product before buying it" (3) as you look through reviews of an item you are considering buying, downvote reviews that are either low quality such as "great product/Awesome/Good quality/etc" and downvote reviews that are obviously biased or misleading.

Here is the second and much shorter section about price anchoring.

If you have ever watched an infomercial, you have seen price anchoring in effect. You know, the ones where the energetic speakers say something along the lines of "Retail price for this item is $119.99, BUT for the next few hours ONLY, if you call or order online you will get this FANTASTIC item for $29.99!!!"

This is called price anchoring. Before they tell you what the actual price is, they show you an inflated price. This tricks the brain into thinking you are getting a good deal when in reality it may just be a few percent off of retail, OR it may not be a deal at all.

This doesn't just happen with infomercials or sketchy websites, sellers on sites like Amazon, Evike or Ebay do this all the time.


From Ebay:
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This example shows how the seller is trying to make the gun seem to be higher quality by claiming the price should be set at $100. When a buyer sees this, they are more likely to purchase the gun since it is *technically* 50% off.

From Evike:

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In this example, the *deal* seems like a good buy. However when you look at other sites, you will see that the retail price is set much higher than it is on the other sites, and the sale price is about what the retail price should be.

In some cases the product really will be priced SLIGHTLY below retail, however often times the elevated prices that are slashed through are just prime examples of price anchoring.

So in conclusion let's recap what we have gone over. In the beginning we talked a bit about how reviews can alter the buyers perception of a product, and the methods companies use to make a sub-par product, seem like it is great. I have provided you with the means to wade through the bad reviews, and find the meaningful ones. The second topic we covered was what is known as price anchoring, which is the dishonest practice companies will use to make buyers think they are getting a better deal.

I hope this guide will help both newbies and old pros alike when they set out to purchase products online, both airsoft related or otherwise. If you have any questions or comments I will do my best to address them.

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April 24, 2017  •  01:18 PM
Really good article!

I always knew there were a lot of fake reviews on Amazon ( I think there was even some legal case involves with fake Amazon reviewers ), but did not know about sites like fakespot.com and reviewmeta.com.

Incredibly useful not only for airsoft, but literally any other type of gear I plan to buy.

I noticed almost all "Amazon" mentions are hyperlinked. Was this intentional or is something wrong with my browser?

EDIT: System automatically links them. Even in my comment. Never mind...
April 24, 2017  •  01:54 PM
@Almoo Yeah, the system auto links them for some reason, it was not intentional. Glad you liked it and found it so useful!
April 25, 2017  •  01:13 PM
I don't normally comment on articles, but I have to agree that this is very well written. And it actually is a really big issue
Several kids come up to me and say "I want this gun, there's lots of good reviews about it!" Then they tell me what it is and I'm just like NOOOO! Then I have to go through explaining why whichever gun, vest, etc... is not good, and the majority of the time, they wind up going with it and getting burned in the end. They just don't listen. Their loss though :D.
April 25, 2017  •  02:04 PM
@COASTsniper1 Thanks for the encouraging words. Reading back over it I see a few spelling and Grammar mistakes that I wish I would have caught before, but other than that I thought I did pretty well with the formatting and flow!
April 26, 2017  •  05:07 PM
Good article, lots of useful information for less experienced shoppers.