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. It has since slapped several other wrists and promises to continue doing so.
So here, in order, are our picks for the best product review sites:
This non-profit describes its goal very simply: "We aren't loyal to businesses. We're loyal to you." This is something other review sites – and all websites for that matter – should take to heart.
Journalism, which includes review sites, is supposed to be a service for the reader, not a money-making conspiracy between site publishers and their subjects. Many, if not most, sites today take kickbacks from businesses every time someone clicks on a buy-it-now link. Many also charge a hefty fee for business to be listed.
Checkbook does none of this. It, like Consumer Reports, is a not-for-profit supported by its members. From our base in the Washington, D.C., area, we have often relied on Checkbook and have found it to lead us to reliable service providers who do good work at a fair price.
Unlike many sites, Consumer's Checkbook doesn't bother with reviews of toasters and smart watches. It concentrates on local businesses and services, which is really where the rubber meets the road in terms of service and satisfaction.
Unfortunately, it doesn't operate in all markets. You won't find veterinarian reviews (or any other) for Sheboygan but the site also includes a full slate of articles and news stories that are useful to everyone, so it's worth checking out.
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.
Consumer Reports surveys millions of consumers every year to learn which products and vehicles work the best and last the longest.
CR has over 140 scientists, researchers, and technicians working in 63 labs and a 327-acre auto test center.
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.
Yelp has taken a strong stance against phony and compensated reviews and urged other social media to do the same.
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 appear to be legitimate and can be extremely helpful in making a buying decision.
Like Yelp, Amazon has been aggressive in going after fake and compensated reviews, bringing legal action against some violators.
However, we have experimented with submitting reviews for products we bought from Amazon and found the process to be completely mystifying. Reviews are accepted and rejected seemingly at random.
The reviews are free but, of course, there’s always the danger you’ll buy something while perusing the site.
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 gets paid when readers click on certain links.
It claims to have “over 1,000 up-to-date, independent reviews.”
Subscribe for $40 per year for unlimited access.
ConsumerAffairs has been providing product reviews and consumer news and safety recall information since 1998. It has an accreditation program that enables companies to pay a fee that lets them access and respond to reviews and comments about their products. The site is free to readers. It does not have advertising but is compensated for certain clicks and inquiries, as well as by fees charged to companies to be "accredited."
Its site includes buyers guides that help consumers make choices about major purchases, including home warranties, mortgages, solar power, personal finance and moving. The choices presented are generally one product versus another, not whether the product or service is something everyone should buy.
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of other sites that claim to provide fair and accurate reviews. Many specialize in specific sectors, like smartphones or software. Nearly all have given up on subscriptions and advertising and prefer to shake down companies whose products are reviewed.
Have we missed a valuable site? Let us know.