Real-time Inventory Tracking is Hard…

It’s hard enough for retailers. Harder still for third-parties like Krillion. ConsensusBest doesn’t (yet) include television recommendations. So, being in the market for a simple, standard TV, I checked out this service which aggregates online/offline retail information with Epinions.com-provided user reviews. We’ve written about them before, taking issue with their focus on the big national chains at the seeming exclusion of local mom-and-pops. Of course, they are a competitor, so read our thoughts with that in mind. That said, they have improved and doing deals with big retailers is much easier than lots of independent stores and regional chains, even if the service suffers somewhat for it.

Back to the real-time inventory issue.

In researching TVs, we saw a promising Sanyo model which Krillion marked as being in stock at Wal-Mart:

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But when we clicked through to the Wal-Mart site for more information, we found this:

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In fairness to Krillion, there were several other models I looked at where I clicked through to the retailers’ sites and found that Krillion’s inventory information matched up. But here’s an example of where it didn’t. And who knows if this is a Krillion issue or a Wal-Mart one? But the user experience is in Krillion’s hands until the customer completes a transaction.

We are constantly correcting for this kind of problem ourselves. Retailers and manufacturers often offer conflicting information about who carries what. That’s why we recommend that folks always call their local store before heading out for a shopping trip. Krillion helps on this front by providing a click-to-call service that lets you contact local stores through the web site.

As we’ve said, this is a problem for everyone in this space. There will always be hiccups. It’s nice to see that Krillion provides the convenient safety net of click-to-call.

Attention Capital Region Shoppers…

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Albany, NY retailer Babyland is going out of business, according to local press reports. Babyland carries some ConsensusBest-recommended products. It looks like the store will be open for another month or so. After that, we’ll remove it from our database. Until then, though, it’s probably a great place to pick up some going-out-of-business bargains on all things baby. (Website warning or bonus, depending on your perspective ;-): the Babyland site linked to above automatically plays the store song/jingle).

Picture Perfect Point-and-Shoots

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It’s no coincidence that the top11 point-and-shoot digital cameras, and 14 of the top 20, on Amazon.com’s bestseller list are from Canon. We’ve been updating the ConsensusBest digital camera lists (as with any electronics, the constant flood of new products makes that a challenge) and were struck by the popularity of so many Canon models. Of course, they also make some popular and well-reviewed digital SLR’s. But there’s also plenty of Nikon’s on our list, and we’ve been hearing great things about some of their newer models, (and that Amazon list reflects the greater competition there). Take a look at the current list and then, if you’re still deliberating on which model to buy, check back soon and see which models are up, down, or new to the list.

What Does an Idepenedent Review Source’s Acquisition Mean for its Credibility?

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Longtime fans of dpreview.com are understandably worried that the digital photography review site’s recently-announced acquisition by Amazon will hurt editorial independence. Also understandably, the site’s founder is focused only on the upside:

“We’ve worked very hard over the last eight years to deliver consistently high quality content to our readers”, founder Phil Askey said. “It will be fantastic to be able to expand and build on that without compromising our quality or independence. With the support and resources of Amazon we can achieve this.”(link).

Here at ConsensusBest, we’ve used dpreview.com as one of the many sources of quality review information on which we base our own recommendations. But it is just one source. Will it continue to be? That depends. Surely the ownership could cheapen the value of the site’s reviews, but that’s not a foregone conclusion. It may make them better. After all, it’s not as if dpreview.com didn’t have affiliate relationships with third-party retailers before. No one suggests that those relationships resulted in reviews being skewed in favor of higher-priced (and more profitable for the site) cameras.

Amazon has a great history of innovation in fostering independent product reviews: user reviews, wikis, customer photos, etc. We’re inclined to believe that they’re wise enough not to undermine the value of their new purchase by doing anything to prompt its community to question the site’s integrity.

As always, we’ll continue to rely on our guidelines for source credibility, specifically:

On what are the Consensus Best recommendations based?

On the best available ratings, reviews, and recommendations of unbiased product experts and consumers like you. To identify the best products, our editors turn to the most trusted sources of online and offline product reviews, from consumer publications where scientists test products in the lab to niche Web sites where enthusiasts put them to use in the real world.

So we’ll continue to use dpreview.com as a resource until something they do gives us reason to stop. Stay tuned…

New Category: Baby Monitors

Already one of our broadest categories, baby products gets even bigger today with the addition of four great baby monitors. We always try and have a minimum of four products up before announcing a new category (ideally, one in each price category), but more are on the way soon. Subscribe to our RSS feed for automatic updates or check back regularly to…uh, “monitor” the situation (sorry, I never can resist a bad pun (is that redundant?) ;-) ).

Beware friendly PR folks bearing strange questions.

As a former newspaper reporter, I would have hoped to be more on my toes when a rep from a Boston PR firm called last month following the story in the PoJo. What was disconcerting was this was a woman who I’d traded e-mails with after I notified her that one of her clients had a product on a ConsensusBest-recommended list. I assumed that she was calling to follow-up on that front. She explained that her client wanted to know more about the site and, specifically, how we were funded. Hmmm, I thought, I guess they’re just trying to get a sense of how much stock to put in our recommendation (a lot, I’d suggest, since it’s based on thorough research of all the top expert and user sources).

Well, the very next day this comment appeared under the PoJo story, submitted by someone who’d created an account that morning and hasn’t posted anything since. It’s clear that this PR rep’s client wasn’t a manufacturer, but more likely a competitor with an axe to grind (the only one mentioned in the post? It’s anyone’s guess). In retrospect, I wouldn’t have said anything different. Contrary to what the comment insinuates, we’re very open about how we operate. I hope I made our case in responding to the comment which, motivations aside, raises legitimate issues which we’re happy to address.

Am I naive to hope for that same kind of honesty in return from others? Nah, I don’t think so. :-)

Pay-per-Yelp?

Greg Sterling points us to a provocative proposal from Ahmed of iBegin. Specifically, he advocates upfront fees and invites to separate the wheat from the chafe when it comes to user reviews. Now that user reviews are a standard feature on every “local” site, it’s painfully obvious that more is not necessarily better and that all reviews are not created equal. Amazon can brag about the breadth of its user reviews because they know it signals customers that there must surely be some useful information in there somewhere. But what if, instead of scanning 25 Amazon reviews in search of a few gems, you could be offered just five reviews, all of the gold?

Indeed, quality assurance is the next step in making user reviews truly useful. Look at a site like Epinions, the granddaddy of the genre. Take their page for the Nikon D50, for example. Nine reviews for this popular SLR camera, the latest one nearly four months old. And, jumping back to Amazon, I find that their subjective reviews for things like CDs and books tend to be much more helpful than the ones for electronics or housewares where a more structured review would work better than free-form opinion.

Of course, InsiderPages (recently bought by CitySearch) and others are built on the idea that a review/recommendation from a friend or even a friend of a friend is more valuable than one from a stranger. I’m not sure if Ahmed’s proposal is a viable one, but it’s something worth thinking about.



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