Before buying furniture, a car, or other consumer products, it’s important to research the companies you might buy from. Doing so can ensure you get the best possible value for your money, that you don’t get scammed, and possibly, that you’re buying from a company whose values align with yours.
You don’t have to be a thorough, investigative researcher before buying a product – especially something cheap and simple – but even a cursory round of critical evaluation can be beneficial if you turn it into a habit.
What to Check Before Buying a Product
Before buying a product from any company, be sure to evaluate:
1. The company history. What is this company like, and where did it come from? Learning about the company history can help you better understand the context for why this company exists – and what its motivations are. Generally speaking, older companies tend to be more reliable and trustworthy; if they’ve been in business for more than 75 years, they probably take good care of their customers. That’s not to say that startups and new businesses can’t make good products or provide good service, but more history is generally a good thing.
2. The leadership team. You’ll also want to take a look at the leadership team. Who are the people in charge of this organization? What are their goals and values? Do they have a mission statement or a vision for the company? If a company has a solid leader and a great team of people running it, you’re probably going to find much higher-quality products – and more care and service if you have any issues with those products in the future.
3. Product photos. Next, look at product photos – and more than just the ones the company is willing to show to you. Most companies make it a point to display their best professional photos online, demonstrating their products in the best possible condition and the best possible light. But are there photos of their products in a more natural environment, taken by real people who have bought them in the past? It can help you get a better understanding of what these products are actually like.
4. Customer reviews. Next, make sure you look at customer reviews for the business on Facebook (and other channels, like Yelp). Generally, the more “good” reviews a company has, the better, and if there’s a cascade of “bad” reviews, you’ll know to stay away. However, regardless of the good/bad mix, you’ll want to read the reviews to see what specific comments people have about this company and about these products.
5. Return policies. Before committing to a purchase, take a moment to look at this company’s return policy (and whether they intend to make good on that policy). What happens if the product is shipped to you and it arrives broken – will the company replace it? If you’re not satisfied with the product, or if it doesn’t work the way you expected, is there recourse to get your money back? The more robust and specific their coverage is, the better you can feel about buying from them.
6. Payment methods and checkout procedures. Though a minor variable, it’s a good idea to scope out the payment methods and checkout procedures offered by this business online. If they accept a wide range of different payment methods, it’s a sign that they have their finances in order (and that they’re trying to serve the broadest range of customers). If the checkout is fast, simple, and intuitive, that’s a sign of a professional company as well.
7. Accreditations and affiliations. Pay attention to trust signals on the company’s website and in other outlets. What kind of accreditations and certifications does this company have? Are they a member of any organizations that you know and trust? Are they reviewed and approved by an authoritative third party? Have they worked with any noteworthy clients or companies in the past?
8. Sustainability. Finally, if you’re concerned about sustainability, look to see if this company has published a sustainability report. Oftentimes, businesses will report on the efforts they’ve made to make their companies more sustainable, both environmentally and socially. This way, you can feel confident you’re buying products from a responsible vendor.
Coming to Your Own Conclusions
There’s no such thing as a perfect company. Throughout your research, you’re probably going to find some peculiarities with every company you encounter; there will be strange photos, occasional bad customer reviews, and other mild red flags. It’s up to you to decide whether these drawbacks and risks are worth avoiding the company altogether – or whether the possible advantages outweigh these small negatives.