Why I’ve Stopped Relying On Online Reviews For Everything I Buy

Why I’ve Stopped Relying On Online Reviews For Everything I Buy

When it’s time to make a big purchase, most of us rush to the internet in search of reviews and comparisons, so we can spend our money wisely — but then we often rush out and buy something without actually trying it. Here’s what I’ve started doing instead.

My Experience: Last year, I was on the hunt for a nice pair of headphones. I wanted something in the $US200 price range with a good amount of bass, so I started hunting online. I found a lot of good contenders, but it seemed like the entire internet was enamoured with the Audio Technica ATH-M50, and everything I read led me to believe I didn’t need to look any further.

Instead of just picking up that pair, though, I actually purchased three different pairs of headphones and tried them all out. I found that despite the rave reviews, I couldn’t stand the ATH-M50 — it just didn’t fit with my personal preferences and music taste. Instead, I ended up with a much lesser-known pair that I absolutely adore.

The Lesson: Online reviews can be great, but they’re only step one if you really want to get the best product out there for you. The best way to get the right product is to try them for yourself, at home, and compare them to one another. This is what I do now:

  1. I start by looking at reviews, comparisons, polls (like our Hive Five series), and forum posts and compile a list of two or three items that might fit my needs.
  2. I then buy all the products on my list, focusing on stores with good return policies. Shop around and read return policies carefully (remember stores aren’t obliged to offer returns purely because you change your mind).
  3. Once all the items have arrived, I give them each a short trial period. In the case of things like headphones, I try to compare them side-by-side as well, so I can really hear the differences between each model.
  4. When I’m done, I return the ones I don’t like. Simple as that.

So far, this has worked really well: I’ve scored headphones, a mechanical keyboard, and even shoes this way.

Obviously this strategy isn’t foolproof. If you’re buying really expensive items (like laptops), things get a bit dicier, and shipping costs make this much less feasible with overseas stores. But the bottom line is that online reviews are great — but reading them isn’t the only step to making a big purchase. When you can, try things out for yourself, either by returning products or through and you’re much more likely to be happy with the final product.


  • This is terrible. Way to screw over the stores you buy things from. There are genuine reasons you may have to return an item but “Oh, I bought three different ones and am only keeping the one I like the most” is not one of them.

    • Fully agree with you though I suspect it’s just been copy/pasted from the US version. US retailers are much more accommodating of returns/customer complaints than anywhere else in the world

      Personally, I’d actually do some proper homework than this extremely lazy way of getting the best product, such as going into the shop and asking if I can trial a pair of headphones in store.
      I’d also write down a list of things that are important for me in the product I’m purchasing, and see if it meets that criteria.

      Women are notorious for using this tactic with clothing, and one of my former girlfriends thought it was an integral part of her clothes shopping to buy something one day, wear it at a party, then return it, despite my undisguised distaste at such shallow tactics.
      She didn’t appreciate the comparison when I used the same tactic on her, when I eventually returned her and tried her best friend.

      • Maybe she was upset because she was passed her allowed return date? That probably expired a month or two after you were dating, you’ve got to be careful.

        It appears you made the mistake of trying to return her and get a replacement after the return date, and I can imagine how well that turned out.

        • I have a suspicion that mentioning that she was past her use by date would not have not improved the situation any..
          My epitaph may have been ‘Man stabbed to death with high heel shoes; woman returns them for store credit’

        • You mean like when my ex-gf did the same thing to me that ManDroid did to his gf?
          It goes both ways buddy.

      • My ex used to do that a lot too Mandroid lol. Her words of ‘Lets go to Garden City!’ used to be synonymous with ‘I want to return this dress/shirt/pants/whatever’.

        The poop hit the fan one weekend when I asked her if she cared about the tags in clothing? She said no and thought it was a stupid, wierd question for me to ask. I said ‘No reason’. And cut the tag out of a denim jacket (denim jacket ffs, who buys a denim jacket, its not 1988 any more) she bought. Oh dear, she can’t return it now 😉

        She was *pissed*.

        “I guess we’re not going to Garden City?” I asked. I still went. That was the day I went and saw Iron Man 2 by myself lol. Best day at the shops ever. 😀

  • So ultimately the return of the product will then require it be resent to the manufacturer for re-packaging, therefore incurring an additional cost to both the retailer and the manufacturer, which will then be passed onto other consumers?

    Buy one. Try it. If it’s not good enough, then sure, return it, THEN buy another one.

    • Every retail store I have ever worked at just has its own shrink wrap machine. Never have I had to send anything back to a manufacturer for repackaging. If the store is above board, they sticker it with a discount and move on, if they’re dodgy they’ll just package it back up again.

  • One should note that (under the Australian Consumer Law) a retailer is not obliged to refund you on a product just because you change your mind. If you buy two pair of headphone and then you decide you like the first pair better, but there is nothing wrong with the second pair and they work in such a way that you could reasonably expect headphones to work, the retailer can tell you to get stuffed.

    Even if the second pair doesn’t have as much ‘sick bass’ as the first pair.

    Even if you have your receipt.

    (Unless the store policy is to accept returns for change of mind. Then you are larfin.)

    • The work around for this if you state that the item isn’t ‘fit for purpose’, and then return. “Fit for purpose’ could cover sound quality, if you push for it.

      • With our laws, surely it’d have to be a rather expensive item to not be “fit for purpose” if the sound quality isn’t quite up to scratch.
        And the degree to which it is “unfit for purpose” would have to be rather big. “The bass isn’t that great” probably wouldn’t hold up too well, because they do still work for their intended purpose.

        (Disclaimer: I don’t know the law on this, and I’m not a lawyer. I have studied law a bit, and my knowledge suggests the above, but I haven’t actually gone looking for anything concrete.)

        • You may have more luck if you asked the salesperson for advice. If you asked the salesperson for the headphones with ‘the sickest bass’ but the headphones, regardless of price, did not have sick bass then they would be returnable as not fit for the purpose for which you told the salesperson you required them. No less dodgy, and unhelpful if you’re buying online, of course.

        • Depends on the store. I know officeworks from personal experience for instance has the most flexible returns policy, as long as its in a state which can be resold. Boom they’ll refund. Even without an invoice, although then only to a gift card. Ive bought a few products which while working perfectly well just didnt do the job quite like I wanted them too. So i returned them and got a refund. The staff were quite pleasant about it actually.

          • Officeworks are awesome. I bought an external HDD from them for a discounted price because someone returned it. Turns out that person returned it after swapping the power supply with a faulty one. I in turn returned it because I need a working power supply of course, so they replaced the whole thing with a brand new one at no extra charge.

      • Of course, the store can ask you what that purpose would be… not saying you won’t get the refund and the store of course isn’t likely to do this, but if you’re a repeat offender, they very well may.

      • ‘fit for purpose’ doesn’t cover quality, mostly – it fits on your head, it makes noises, they are headphones. If Sennheiser marketed headphones as ‘also a food processor!’ and you bought a pair, and they didn’t process food as advertised, then you could return them as not fit for purpose.

        As @daedalus says, it would have to be particularly expensive or a luxury item to quibble about sound quality, if the quality is still at a level that would be reasonably expected.

        • Yeah, I bought a pair of high-end sennheisers (about 500), and the sound quality was shocking . Apparently they weren’t faulty, although the salesperson agreed they didn’t sound good enough. Took them back and got a different model. To be fair sound quality is such a subjective experience.

    • One may also sell the unwanted items on your favourite on-line site (like eBay or craigslist)…

  • The retailer you just returned those to probably can’t/won’t resell them now due to health/hygiene reasons. Good job.

  • Yeh this is a pretty bad idea Lifehacker, plus you’re still relying on reviews for the initial decision. With the headphone example, most retailers (like JB) will have a lot of demo units you can try out in store.

  • A lot of retailers in Australia won’t accept back headphones because of ‘hygiene issues’ and they’ll only take them back if faulty or unopened.

  • Yeah this is a good way to abuse stores that are trying to do the right thing by the customer.
    Personally I’d go out to a place and ask to try them out, if they don’t have a demo unit they can get the public to try, you shouldn’t really be forcing them to make a demo unit just for you (at extra expense for delivery and everything.

  • If it’s a product you need to try out, you should be shopping in person, not online. No, that doesn’t mean go to a store and try something out, then buy it online, it means going to a store and paying them for the service they are providing.

    • Yep. I wanted some new cologne so this weekend I spent the day in the city shopping for it. You’ve just got to accept that if you want hands on demo you’ve got to go to a store that offers one.

    • absolutely, this. If I want the convenience and service of a retail store (yes, some retail monkeys still offer that intangible) then they deserve a fair “markup” over internet retailers operating out of someone’s garage.

  • My experience: I lived in an area where I couldn’t readily get access to the range of headphones I was interested in buying (meaning I couldn’t get access without purchasing a plane ticket). So I spent a month or two visiting as many websites and forums as I could and discussing the pros and cons of a wide variety of set ups with members of the audio enthusiast community. After I had collected enough information, I looked for specialist retailers in Australia who stocked some or all of the products I was interested in and engaged in a series of emails to ensure that my specifications would be correct.

    After all of this, I chose a pair and got them shipped over before promptly realising that they were prohibitively tight for the size of my humongous skull, to the point that I would end up with cuts after wearing them for <30 min. Returned them to the friendly vendor, asked for more advice and ponied up for a pair that were of a much comfier build and resulted in a thoroughly pleasing auditory experience.

    I won’t mention the specialist headphone/audio equipment store in WA that worked with me to find a product that I adore, but I will say that they were fantastic.

    tl;dr Do your research, get a shortlist; do more research, interact with the community, engage an experienced vendor. Don’t be the kind of consumer who wastes everyone’s time and money because they didn’t have the initiative.

  • I agree with the sentiments in this thread. Either try in the shop, or accept what you get when you buy “cheaper” online.
    For about 15 years, I owned a pair of Koss Porta-Pro Jnrs. These are over-the-ear headphones (ie. not sealed), but they’re small, lightweight and have a punchy (tight) bass. If you like “full bass” or “loose bass”, these are not your headphones.
    I bought these for about $150 back in the early 90s, and $30 about a year ago (from a UK supplier). If you are in the market for small, lightweight, non-enclosed ears with a tight/punchy bass, you really can’t go wrong for about $30 (delivered).
    The reason I replaced them was that my kids used them as a fitness tool – and they couldn’t quite survive that level of torture 😉

  • This is terrible advice, this sort of behavior should not be encouraged.

    Here is an idea: how about you get off your fat ass and go to a store to try out and purchase some headphones? Or if you are too lazy to do that then at least properly research an item before you purchase it online instead of acting a twat.

  • Worst article I’ve read in ages. I’ve worked in retail in my 20s for around 7 or 8 years, 35 now and I used to tell customers like the author to piss off all the time when we realised what they were doing (it was quite obvious, customers like that are repeat offenders, they think sales staff never remember, but any retail assistant can tell you, they do.) Maybe we didn’t use the words ‘piss off’, exactly, but we did take a lot of joy in not being polite in telling you no we won’t refund the item because you’ve just changed your mind and we especially took pleasure in the look on people like the authors face when they got angry simply because ‘they didnt want the item any more’.

    Not wanting an item is not legal reason enough for a refund, the ACCC will side with the retailer in this case every single time.

  • Look at fredmiranda forum re camera gear, some posters will return stuff and a good lens is a ‘keeper’.
    But then everything is much cheaper and arrives overnight.
    In Australia, things cost more and online items can take from two days to three weeks to arrive so would tend to stick to the original decision unless broken or defective (fortunately not happened yet)

    • People on FM are also massive shutins who shoot test charts and cats in their parents basement and claim ‘backfocus’ or ‘front focus’ exists in 103% of lenses they have ever used.

  • Great Idea, just don’t come shopping at my place mate. I’ll happily kick you out on your ear.

  • Just what retail needs in this country, another kick in the junk. Why stop at ‘renting’, every audiophile knows that headphones need time to wear in before they sound optimal. so why not buy 3 mp3 players as well, run them all for 40-50 hours, then pick you headphones and return everything you don’t need….

  • While I agree with what most are saying in regards to the legitimacy of this practice, the availability of headphones to try in store is often limited, particularly if you’re searching in a specific price range.

    What happens when the $200+ gamble you took on a pair of headphones not available in Australian stores to try results in them being unusable due to discomfort or incredibly shitty sound? Do we just resort to staying in our bubble and only buying what bricks and mortar retailers want to have available?

    The majority of retail stores I’ve been to only have 6-10 pairs of headphones to try, generally from 1-2 brands and ranging in price. This results in the need to travel to multiple retailers to try to find similarly priced products to compare, then not being able to test them side-by-side.

    In Japan, almost EVERY set of headphones in stock is available to try in stores like Yodobashi and Bic Camera. From a $10 buds to $600 cans, you can go from one to the next with your mp3 player and test them out before deciding.

    IMHO, it’s good practice for online retailers to accept returns for change of mind. It makes them a retailer I would want to deal with again, knowing that I don’t have to worry if something doesn’t work out with my purchase.

    If bricks and mortar retailers here in Australia won’t make the space for a decent range of test headphones, it’s their loss.

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