Before the Purchase
Regardless of the type of good or service you intend on purchasing, the critical first step before handing over any cash, writing a check, swiping a card, or signing an agreement is doing your research! You wouldn't jump into a swimming pool before checking if it's filled with water. The same can be said for making a purchase. So many consumers make the mistake of committing to a product or service before they know exactly what they're getting into.
Before a final decision
- What do I need and why do I need it? Whether a tangible good or a service, it's important to first understand the need behind the pending purchase. Is it necessary? What will it be used for? Will you get your money's worth?
- Am I choosing the best option? Is the product/service the best option to fulfill the need behind it? It's vital to consider all your options before making that final commitment. There may very well be a better, cheaper option out there that you may not have previously considered.
- What do I know about the company? Is the company that makes/sells the product or provides the service a reputable one? A company with a solid history high customer satisfaction is far more appealing than a company that you've never heard of or that little is known about.
- Do I have the option to back out if I'm not satisfied? Ensuring that you are protected BEFORE making any purchase is essential. This is especially important for larger, more costly purchases. Are you protected by a warranty if something goes wrong? Who is providing the warranty? Can you return the product if you aren't satisfied? Does the product/service come with a money-back guarantee? You certainly don't want to get stuck paying for something that isn't what you wanted.
While doing your research, a good place to turn is product reviews from your fellow consumers. Who better to rate the product or service you are considering for purchase than someone who has already purchased it? But be careful. Not all reviews, positive or negative, are legitimate.
A quick web search is a good place to start. You may uncover hundreds of complaints in one click or you may find nothing but positive feedback, which would bode well for your future satisfaction with the company/product/service. Additionally, you can never go wrong with asking your friends, neighbors and family members for their feedback and recommendations if they've had experience.
If you uncover many complaints about a company with a simple web search, you should probably steer clear of that company and go somewhere else. It may be better to pay a little more money with one company with nothing but positive reviews than to go through the hassle of dealing with another company with hundreds of complaints.
North Carolina Attorney General's Office
If you're looking to hire a company to perform a service for you, a good initial step in the research process is the contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office to find out if they have any complaints on file from other consumers about the company. No recorded complaints is a good sign (but by no means a guarantee) that the company has a good track record. On the other hand, if there ARE complaints on file with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office against the company, that could raise red flags.
Better Business Bureau
Contrary to popular belief, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a private organization consisting of business members that pay membership fees. It is NOT a government agency and is not able to force a company to do anything.
For all that the BBB can't do, they do offer a sizable database that you can use to get a feeling about a company. Again, take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes you can see that a company has an "A" rating, but that doesn't mean the company is trustworthy. It only means that no one has written the BBB about the company or that the company has responded to the BBB about complaints, not necessarily that the complaints were resolved to the consumer's satisfaction. Compare it to taking a test in school and getting a perfect score just for turning it in, even if none of your answers or "responses" are correct.
Generally, we consider the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to be a viable resource for providing complaint statistics. The BBB publishes statistics on the number of complaints received about a company which any consumer may view via the BBB website. Some consumers do report successful and satisfactory resolution of complaints against member businesses through arbitration. But every case is different.