The joys of buying online

From Lee Holmes’ Precision Computing, about a colleague who tried to buy a digital camera online:

For some reason, there is an entire cottage industry (in the little cottage called Brooklyn, New York) that sells the camera for below cost, but cancels the order on you unless you buy hundreds of dollars of over-priced accessories.

“Don’t be cheap? Listen. That is ridiculous customer service. Cancel my order and goodbye.”
“Cancel your order? You really want to pay the 30% restocking fee for canceling your order?”
“What restocking fee? There is no order, and you’re not going to charge me one.”
“Oh yes I will.”
“Go ahead, and I’ll dispute the charges on my card and it’ll cost you even more.”
“Don’t you even dare. You do that, and I’ll break your neck. You hear me? I’ll come there and break your f-----g neck. I’ll …”

Evidently, intelligence tests are not part of “new hire training,” as this guy leaves a death threat on voice mail with an unblocked number.

“You better not pick up, b—h. I’m gonna to come down there and break your god damn neck. You heard me, alright? Kid, you better hear me, b—h. Do you hear me, B—H? Yes, you’d better believe it. You’re in biiiig trouble, my friend.”


Holmes goes on to report that these scammers, which change URLs and company names frequently, also have set up entire review websites that contain fake customer reviews for their products. Read the whole thing, it’s hilarious.

This is exactly why I’m always leery of the places that have the absolute lowest prices on online ranking systems like Pricewatch. I’d rather pay a little more to buy from a merchant that I know.

Hah, somehow I knew this thread was about digital cameras. Royal Cameras, Prestige Cameras, etc. are all the same theory, and often the same people. My GF is a pro photographer, and she’s in the market for Nikon’s new 12mp SLR. Royal had it 1500$ below anyone else, which bring up the point: can’t we point the finger back at ourselves for not remembering “If it sounds too good . . .”? We checked out the retailer and googling Royal Camera, the first five pages were all smear pages with horror stories. Needless to say, she didn’t buy the camera.

While it sucks that this happens, a little common sense and a bit of research will protect against these fuckers.


So how do you people go about researching what to buy online these days? From what I’ve seen, it has gotten immensely more difficult over the last even five years. It doesn’t matter which product you choose; they are all littered with 1 star reviews followed by 5 star reviews followed by 1 star reviews. It’s the greatest product known to man, but the company won’t honor the warranty after it gives you cancer and then explodes and kills your dog.

Yeah, I can relate. There’s always someone who got a dodgy piece that throws out a 1 star, or some genius that did something fantastically stupid and broke it and reviewed it at 1 star, or my favorite: the guy who had trouble with Amazon shipping and the package was wet during a rainstorm so the product gets a 1 star.

In general I tend to take a chance with the top two obviously Chinese brands on Amazon for a given product, the Aayou or Waytou or whatever, that have hundreds or thousands of reviews and still make it above 4 stars. Assuming of course that you’re saving massively over a GE or LG or Samsung or whatever known brand. I bought some 20$ diving flashlights and actually dove with them to 80 feet and they worked! Honestly ridiculous, fifteen years ago you paid $150 with 6 D-Cells that would last 30 minutes. I think it’s more about recognizing what products have benefited from mass production and modern production rather than old-school engineering.

I was looking up air purifiers this morning and no shit one of them had a really positive review followed by one that claimed “It killed my beloved cockatiel!” I mean, I don’t have a cockatiel, so I guess I don’t care about that bug (feature?), but still. What to believe?

Normally I’d look at a meta review site, but the top choice on there was getting review after review claiming the thing’s fan exploded and sent plastic shrapnel all over the place. So is this device better? I mean, I don’t know if that would kill a cockatiel, but it can’t be good for it!

I’m starting to come around to “never buy cheap Chinese bullshit on Amazon ever again.” Too many bad experiences, and honestly the Chinese state is so evil that I’d prefer to limit my commerce with it.

I start with the Wirecutter usually. I don’t always agree in the end, but they are a good starting point.

Birds are super susceptible to air quality (canary in a coal mine) so yeah, maybe skip that one.

I’ve found The Wirecutter less useful as time goes on. As a recent example, their lawn mower picks exclusively focus on self-propelled. But then they also focus on cordless mowers - which is fine because that’s what I was after anyway. Of course, one of the benefits of cordless mowers is that they’re extremely light… and combined with the self-propulsion eating up more battery it’s a mostly useless feature.

More often than not recently I’ve been disappointed with their advice (their laptop articles are bad and the budget pick is now as much/more than the main recommendation). Which is a shame because the site used to be great. I wonder if it has anything to do with the NYT buying them out a few years back.

Yeah, Wirecutter has absolutely tanked since selling to NYT. Shame.

It gets harder and harder to find actual reviews (I mean the Editorial type, vs the Amazon sort) of most anything. And lots of “reviews” involve zero personal use of an item and just aggregate Amazon reviews. It can be rather frustrating.

@Penny_Dreadful not sure if this helps but you might keep an eye out for Blueaire purifiers at Costco. Their stuff is really expensive (but cheaper through Costco), and I haven’t used any of their larger units, but I have one of their Pure fans and we love it.

We’ve had good results with:

Though as you say, they all have some hysterical negative reviews. For what it’s worth, it’s managed our “smoke wafting up from the downstairs neighbors” problems very well. The filters are pricey, but only have to be replaced annually.

I second Costco as a source for something like an air purifier. They usually come with two filters, and if you hate it you just return it.

I actually ended up ordering the 5500-2 earlier today, so we’ll see how it does.

And yeah The Wirecutter used to be my go-to, but I rarely end up using their advice these days.

Hope it works well for you. Other than the color I’m not even sure what the difference is, I don’t think they had a 5500 when we bought ours.

Well, to that point you can just use the self-propelled reviews and then buy the non-propelled version, it’s not like there will be a significant difference in the rest of the guts, and a pair of wheels should be pretty bombproof. I did buy the Kobalt 80v self-propelled and can recommend it. The power is there and the battery lasts around an hour of cutting, not much more I can ask.

Oh sure, that was just a recent example (and FWIW I went with the Ryobi 40V due to the large tool ecosystem). There’ve been enough times where Wirecutter says “You really need <this feature> therefore we’re only considering products with it” for a feature I couldn’t care less about and just a general decline in their review quality from my perspective that they’re no longer a site I can recommend without reservation.

Side effect of growing from what really felt like a labor of love into another side project for the Times, I suppose.

It really depends on how much time investment the thing you’re buying is worth. For 10-20$ its mentally easier to just send it back if it’s pure trash than spend an hour looking up reviews from multiple sites.

But basically for high end things like cameras i tend to look at multiple sources of reviews like dpreview, Best Buy, Amazon, B&H, forums ect. PCmag has a very underrated reviews section for cameras, for ex. It’s hard because like was said above reviewers tend to come at their answers from very, very specific shared needs. Like tech influencer YouTube for computer reviews is 100% about making YouTube videos, tech influencer photography is all about 4k/6k+ video, not stills, ect.

I just opened my 5300-2 yesterday.

Also, all those “OZONE EVIL” reviews sorta made me want to buy it even mroe.