Whose Consumer Reviews Do You Most Trust? Whether you're in the market for a new washing machine, or want to upgrade to a smart phone, there are plenty of product reviews ready for your perusal. But how do you know whose consumer reviews to trust? Guests explain how to be a savvy consumer of consumer reviews.
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Whose Consumer Reviews Do You Most Trust?

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Whose Consumer Reviews Do You Most Trust?

Whose Consumer Reviews Do You Most Trust?

Whose Consumer Reviews Do You Most Trust?

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Kicking your old busted refrigerator to the curb? Consider scanning online reviews to help you pick out a new model. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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iStockphoto.com

Kicking your old busted refrigerator to the curb? Consider scanning online reviews to help you pick out a new model.

iStockphoto.com

Whether you're in the market for a new washing machine, or want to upgrade to a smart phone, there are plenty of product reviews ready for your perusal.

But how do you know whose consumer reviews to trust?

Kim Klemen, editor-in-chief of Consumer Reports, and Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of Consumersearch.com, explain how to be a savvy consumer of consumer reviews.

Frietchen, for example, doesn't pay much attention to 1-star and 5-star reviews on websites like Amazon.com. Instead, she clicks reviews with ratings in the middle. "I look for balance in reviews, so what I want to find is somebody who likes something for the most part, but has some quibbles ... It's the people who have mixed feelings about a product where I find the most balance and the most credibility."

Tell us: What are your strategies for weeding through fields of product reviews?

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The current controversy over Apple's new iPhone raises some interesting questions about where to turn for reliable advice about, well, not just electronics, but cars, washers, refrigerators, flat screens and thousands of other products. In the case of the iPhone 4, Apple argued, well, reception wasn't really that bad, that AT&T might be the culprit, maybe it was a software glitch - until a test by Consumer Reports changed the game.

So where do you go for product advice? Your mom, your social network, your neighbors? Do you sift through the rants and raves on the Web? Today we'll review the reviewers. Why do you - who do you rely on for product reviews and why? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Roman Polanski will not be forced to return to California. We'll read from several op-eds and we want to hear from you. You can send email now. The address is talk@npr.org.

But first, more on Consumer Reports magazine, which made big news this week when it decided it would not give the iPhone 4 its recommended rating. Kim Klemen, editor in chief of Consumer Reports, joins us now from their studio in Yonkers, New York. And nice to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. KIM KLEMEN (Consumer Reports): Happy to be here.

CONAN: And the story has been reported as a retraction. As I understand it, that's not quite accurate.

Ms. KLEMEN: No, it's not a retraction at all. We just finished testing the iPhone 4. We gave it excellent scores for display and navigation and Web browsing, multimedia, battery life. It is the top-scoring smart phone in our ratings. However, at the time that we were testing, we were reading and hearing about consumer complaints, about spotty reception and dropped calls. So we replicated that. We were able to replicate that in our labs.

And what we decided was that, well, this phone gets great scores according to our testing methodology that we use on every other phone. We could not tell people - we could not recommend it because we think Apple needs to fix this problem. This is not - people should not have to use duct tape or masking tape or buy a $29 bumper to fix it. Apple needs to fix it. So we're waiting for that and then we might recommend it.

CONAN: You could understand the confusion though. The initial review says first look, iPhone 4 exceeds even its high expectations. Then the subsequent one, once the tests were finished: why Consumer Reports cannot recommend the iPhone 4. So there was - you can understand why people were confused.

Ms. KLEMEN: I can, but let me just say that in our initial reviews - and you know, one of the things that all reviewers try to do, certainly Consumer Reports, is that we try to tell you what we know when we know it. But we were very careful in all of our early first looks to say this is just a first look, we haven't finished testing. We try to be really careful about that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Is this to some degree a product of the Web? When there was just the magazine, you can wait for the results to be finished and then publish it. Well, nobody wants to wait for the monthly magazine anymore.

Ms. KLEMEN: Yeah, that's right. We have really ramped up our testing such that we are testing far more products than we ever have because there are far more out there and people want to know about all of them. And we are trying to speed up our testing so that we have results sooner. You're right, we're not on a monthly magazine schedule anymore.

CONAN: And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your process. One of the reasons so many rely on Consumer Reports, well, for one thing, you don't take advertising so there's no payoff for you by saying somebody is good and somebody else isn't. But it's also your testing methods. For one thing, you don't wait for the company to send you a product. You go out and buy it.

Ms. KLEMEN: That's exactly right. Let me tell you something about Consumer Reports. We are 74 years old. We're going to be celebrating our 75th birthday next year. Not me personally, but the organization.

CONAN: Eventually you will.

Ms. KLEMEN: And always, always, from the beginning, our sole constituent has been the consumer. We don't like manufacturers. We don't dislike manufacturers. We are basically there to tell consumers among a host of products, you know, which one is best and which one is the best value and which one to stay away from. We support ourselves almost exclusively from subscriptions. Our magazine subscription is $26. That's pricier than many magazines out there. Our Web subscription as well. But it's because that is how we get our money to do our testing and to publish our products.

We test more than 3,000 different products a year. We spend several million dollars buying those products off the shelves to test. We test another 80-something vehicles that we buy. That's another two and a half million dollars. We have 50 testing labs onsite here at our headquarters in Yonkers. We have another 300-some-odd-acre test track in Connecticut. So we pride ourselves in being independent, and we have to be independent because, you know, of what we do.

If people saw an ad for a manufacturer on our pages, they might begin to think, hmm, is this product rated as it is because they paid - you know, the manufacturer paid for an ad? And our independence is absolutely our credibility, and so that's why we do what we do in the way that we do it.

CONAN: Do you use input from subscribers, from consumers? Do you take their reviews into account or their queries into account?

Ms. KLEMEN: Oh, absolutely. We in every issue and online, you know, what would you like us to test and what are your tips? Interestingly I mean, Consumer Reports can test every feature and every aspect about a product, except sometimes durability or how the product works in constant use. That's where we really rely on user reviews and comments - other comments from our readers. We have had the case where, wow, we rated this blender as tops. And then when people were using it for several months at a time, you know, the motor is acting funny or...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KLEMEN: ...it's, you know, it's not working for me anymore. We will take those comments and go back because, again, we can't test durability. We can't keep refrigerators in our lab for 15 years. You know, the results become who cares, you know, after a period of time like that. So we do like to hear how things are working out in the field. That's exactly what happened with the iPhone 4.

CONAN: What do you do with all that stuff after you've tested it?

Ms. KLEMEN: Oh, this is the biggest perk for working at Consumer Reports and Consumers Union. We have a big auction and the prices are labeled half price. And you can just bid on products. So we have this great auction for staff, and that's a way we recoup some of the money that we pay for the product, but the way staffers can get products cheaply. We never sell our, you know, safety-problem-products or anything like that. But everything else you can buy pretty cheaply.

CONAN: So after you've wrecked the Lexus, you auction it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, anyway, thanks very much. I wonder, does the Apple flak speak to the challenge of expanding and maintaining a reputation beyond the magazine?

Ms. KLEMEN: You know, I'm trying to think of a way to answer that. I mean...

CONAN: Given your given the experience, might you have waited a little longer before passing along those initial reviews?

Ms. KLEMEN: We are trying to serve our readers. We are trying to serve customers. And you know, we had our test results and we also had this information about a glitch, and we thought it was important to get out there with this information for people who might be picking a smart phone now. Yeah, you know, this thing, technically, along all of these many measures it does well. But people are complaining about this problem. We found this problem and we think this company needs to fix this problem. We think that's information that's worth consumers having in their hands just as soon as they could have it.

CONAN: Kim Klemen, thanks very much for your time today. Drive carefully in that Lexus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KLEMEN: I have an Accord.

CONAN: Okay. Kim Klemen is editor-in-chief of Consumer Reports magazine and joined us today from their studio in Yonkers.

There are all kinds of places that offer product reviews online and off, though most don't do testing like Consumer Reports does. Joining us now to discuss how it might be a smart consumer or consumer reviews is Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of Consumersearch.com, a site that analyzes product reviews both from shoppers and professional reviewers. She joins us today from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Ms. CHRISTINE FRIETCHEN (Editor-in-chief, Consumersearch.com): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And would you regard Consumer Reports as the gold standard here?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: For many product areas, absolutely. I mean, how many people really have the capability to buy 40 washing machines and test them all with the exact same load of laundry?

I couldn't fit more than one in my apartment, and hence there's the disconnect between user reviews and major, major reviewing association like Consumer Reports. They've got the resources to do that kind of comparison on those really big items.

CONAN: They also have a brand-name identity, and they work hard to retain their integrity. But brand names, are brand names any guide to reliability?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Sometimes. Lots of magazines do reliability surveys when it comes to brands, but a lot of times, you don't really know who the manufacturer is behind the brand.

CONAN: Ah.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Many people, for example, think that Sears makes a wide variety of Kenmore products. In actuality, Kenmore makes almost nothing.

CONAN: Who makes those products?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: They're all made by different manufacturers. Whirlpool makes some of them. LG makes some of them. It depends on the product.

CONAN: So this is just the Sears brand being slapped on somebody else's - they outsource the manufacturing.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, and that's the same with a lot of those white-label products. You know, Best Buy has a house brand. Wal-Mart has a house brand. Someone else is actually behind those.

CONAN: And so you need to investigate those kinds of things before you say, well, hundreds of years of reliability at Sears, the Kenmore products are pretty good.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, that's absolutely true. I mean, just like everyone, there are manufacturing pressures, and so much is now made in Asia. It's you just really can't tell by the name.

CONAN: Then there are these new kinds of review sites all popping up on the Web that, well, sort of amalgamate consumer reviews.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Right. Well, Amazon is probably the biggest example. I mean, it's people almost think of Amazon.com as a review site. It's actually a retail site. But the two roles have really blended because they've got so much content on user reviews.

But Consumersearch.com, my company, aims to kind of bridge the gap in between the short-term testing that experts like Consumer Reports and C-NET and PC Magazine are doing and that rich, rich, rich history of user reviews that you can find on Amazon.com and other websites.

CONAN: Well, we're going to hear about reviews of the reviewers, and if you'd like to weigh in, where do you turn for advice about, well, various kinds of products? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Last time you bought a new iPod or a dishwasher, chances are you got advice from somebody, a friend, a blog, a magazine, your mom. Today we're letting you review the reviewers. Maybe you went online to ask.

Tell us who you rely on for product reviews and why, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of Consumersearch.com, and let's start with Al(ph). Al's on the line with us from Eaton Prairie in Minnesota.

AL (Caller): Good afternoon. A little stormy here, so if there's a little thunder, just ignore that. I am a professional appliance repair person, and I'd guess I'd have to say that if you really want an honest review, if you can find an unaffiliated repair person, that might be a good way to start. I know that some of the, you know, affiliated ones, may have a problem with a conflict of interest, but I guess I take things like Consumer Reports sometimes with a grain of salt because, you know, they don't have the ability to do long, like I said, long-term testing, whereas I see stuff that's out there for five, 10, 15, 20 years.

CONAN: So an independent car repairman for what's the car you see least in your shop kind of deal.

AL: That kind of thing, I mean, especially if, you know, they come highly rated. You know, you want to talk to your friends about people that have been treated properly and such as that, but once you've come across someone that's been highly recommended, I guess it might be a good place to start with at least some advice, and hopefully, you won't get any biases, and they'll be honest with you.

CONAN: Do you happen to be a repairman, Al?

AL: Yes, I am an appliance repairman.

CONAN: And what kind of appliances?

AL: Everything from refrigerators, (unintelligible), ranges, dishwashers, both washers, dryers. You name it, pretty much I work on it.

CONAN: All right, Christine Frietchen, does Al offer good advice, do you think?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, especially for items that are really big. It's especially true for HVAC products, like air conditioning and furnaces, and there is no organization that tests those. Consumer Reports doesn't test them anymore. They're too big, too difficult to test.

One thing we pride for our report is actually sourcing appliance repairmen from all over the country. And we started picking up the phone and calling them. And that's exactly what we did. We asked those sorts of questions. And also, you want to know who they represent, if they represent someone. But if you can collect enough opinions like that, it's labor intensive, but yeah, you can begin to chisel away at an answer.

CONAN: Al, thanks very much for the advice.

AL: Thank you much. Have a great show.

CONAN: Appreciate it. This on a tweet from Ammas Ammassi(ph) I'm not sure how that's pronounced: Review aggregates on Amazon are usually a factor in my decisions. I read the five-star and one-star especially, crowd-sourcing usually reliable. Would you agree with that?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, I would actually give the opposite advice, though. I look at the two- and the three- and the four-star reviews. And I look for balance in reviews.

So what I want to find is somebody who likes something for the most part but has some quibbles. That's the person that speaks to me. A five-star rave is about as useful to me as a one-star pan. If they're not specific enough in their criticism, I can't really relate to that.

So it's the people who have mixed feelings about a product where I find the most balance and the most credibility.

CONAN: Here's an email from Tom(ph) in St. Louis: I bought my first new car, an Audi, back in 1975, based on a high rating by Consumer Reports. I had nothing but trouble with the car, which Consumer Reports a couple of years later reviewed as one of the used cars to avoid.

I still think they're a good place to start. I also ask my Facebook friends, who have made useful suggestions, apparently especially about a smart phone purchase, an Apple iPhone 3, apparently better than the Apple iPhone 4.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FRIETCHEN: The three yeah, the 3GS, right.

CONAN: So again, that durability issue with the Audi, which turned out to be a real garage queen.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, I mean, and that's really the pitfall of any new product, and it's the risk you take of being an early adopter. If you buy something that's only been out for a week or two, you just can't know all the problems that are going to come up.

So in a way, it pays not to be trendy. It pays not to be the one that's standing in line at midnight at the Apple store.

CONAN: Don't want to be an early adapter.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: No.

CONAN: Buck(ph) is on the line, calling from Lee's Summit in Missouri.

BUCK: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Hi.

BUCK: I think one thing that sometimes people may overlook is the opportunity to use something like Twitter. And you've mentioned Facebook, but, you know, Twitter, in 140 characters, you go out and say hey, does anybody have experience with X, and a lot of times, they will reply to you. And I've had answers to questions within, you know, 10 or 15 minutes, if somebody's you can literally be standing at the store and thinking should I buy this or that and get somebody who follows you on Twitter to say oh, definitely get that.

CONAN: Oh, so it's a way to moderate or at least quantify that impulse buy.

BUCK: Right, well, and it ties in with your, you know, what you were saying earlier about the social network. I mean, it could be anybody from somebody you run into at the coffee shop to somebody that you know professionally, and to be able to ask all of your friends or all of your social network kind of in one quick, concise question, what should I do about this, most people are pretty willing to help you, and you might get an answer really fast.

CONAN: Christine Frietchen, have you ever asked your Twitter pals whether it should be Sony or Sanyo?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: No, but I'll tell you, social media is great for things like restaurants. I can get an answer from my friends so much faster than I can by going to, you know, Yelp or Urban Spoon or any kind of a website and trying to figure it out from there.

And those kinds of really personal things, you know, things like sheets, something that people get really passionate about I know I really love this because it makes me feel good that's the kind of area where a personal recommendation is really helpful. I mean, hopefully your friends actually kind of know your taste and know what you might like.

CONAN: Well, it's also if they give you a bum steer, you know where they live.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, exactly. You can track them down.

CONAN: Buck, thanks very much for the call.

BUCK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Sara(ph), Sara with us from Davis, California.

SARA (Caller): Hi Neal, what a pleasure to hear your voice.

CONAN: Oh, that's nice of you to say, Sara.

SARA: I am often rating on or I read reviews religiously with everything I buy that's on Amazon, on Amazon, and I read them, and I also contribute. I think it's important to have a two-way street there.

And, you know, I agree with your guest that the medium stars, you know, the three or four, I want to know why. And I have rated some really wonderful products with a few little problems that I think, you know, others should know, and they'll probably they might buy it saying that's not a problem for me. But I think it's really a two-way street.

CONAN: So you feel it's important to provide reviews as well as to use them.

SARA: Absolutely, absolutely. I do rely yeah, I do rely on the reviewers on Amazon. I think they're fabulous.

CONAN: Do you ever worry, Sara, that there might be somebody out there with either an agenda, say the author of the book, or somebody with an agenda the other way, who is just out to get them?

SARA: I have read both. And you mentioned an author on a book. It's like come on: Can you be any more transparent? So, you know, they for me, they stick out fairly obviously, but when you're, you're talking about a Bluetooth headset or something, you know, you're not going to get a bunch of Plantronics employees, you know, writing great reviews for it. I don't think so. Am I wrong?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Well, last year, DeLonghi actually got into hot water. One of their communications managers posted a dozen reviews of DeLonghi espresso machines on Amazon.com.

SARA: Oh.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: And yeah, the story broke in the Wall Street Journal. And this was a reader like yourself that actually spotted these eerie consistencies between these rave reviews.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FRIETCHEN: So it does happen. But that's another reason to kind of ignore the five star, you know, I love this product more than life itself.

CONAN: But clearly, if they'd been hip, they would have written some pretty positive but, you know, drawbacks: Does not work well above the Arctic Circle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARA: Exactly. Well, so far so good. I should say I haven't been duped. In fact, sometimes on a review, even Consumer Reports, even a review that's not quite as good - and sometimes, my desire for an item shadows my, you know, good sense, and I'll buy it. And I'll think dang it, I shouldn't have gone against these reviewers. They were right on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Sara, thanks very much for the call. Good luck.

SARA: Thank you, Neal. Take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

SARA: Bye.

CONAN: Email from Leslie(ph) in Kensington, California: I belong to an email list for moms and always get good recommendations from the moms. The group has about 4,000 moms on it. They use products like washers and dryers in the same way I do.

How do you join such a list? That's my question. Do you have to be a mom?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: There are a lot of them. There are some wonderful lists out there. Actually, the Berkeley Parents' Network out in California is very, very active, and a lot of, you know, neighborhood parenting groups are starting very similar lists.

Just the whole baby-gear, parenting area in general is just it's just such a rich depth of information and great, you know, very personal stories. I mean, if I'm reading a review of a minivan, and I've got twins, I want to hear from somebody who's got twins and has actually tried to wrestle two car seats into the backseat.

CONAN: Here's Sean(ph) in Ohio, back to the question we were just talking about: I don't really pay attention to the online consumer reviews because I assume that at least some of them are fabricated by marketing departments. Is there any way to confirm the legitimacy of reviewers online?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: No, that's kind of the short answer, unless you're very clever, and you've really got some time on your hands where you can track things down. I mean, in the DeLonghi issue that I mentioned earlier, it was a reader who noticed a familiar name. And in that particular case, the employee had used her real name. That's something that a savvy, underhanded manufacturer probably wouldn't have done.

CONAN: Let's go next to George(ph), George with us from Traverse City in Michigan.

GEORGE (Caller): Hi, Neal. I wanted to give a one-star review to best - or Consumers Digest as opposed to Consumers Report. I've looked at Consumers Digest a couple of times and they don't really seem to do any of their own testing or anything comparable to Consumers Reports. Also, I believe, and maybe Christine could confirm this, that it's possible for a manufacturer to purchase a best-buy rating from Consumers Digest.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Consumers Digest is a very opaque organization, and that's the best word I can use for it is opaque. I mean, what you want from a reviewer is transparency. You want to know who's doing the testing, where they bought it, how long they tested it, and you want to know both the good and the bad. Consumers Digest - you can't even subscribe to Consumers Digest online. If you go to their website, you just find a placeholder page and its physical mailing address where you may write, send a letter, and ask for information about subscribing. You can find it on a few newsstands but that's it. For me, that's just not nearly enough transparency.

CONAN: So the selling point seems to be an eerie resemblance to the name of Consumers Reports.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Well, yeah. I mean, many websites, including ours, include the word consumer in them. But, yes, you want to - that's definitely a confusion you want to avoid.

CONAN: George, thanks for the advice.

GEORGE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Email from Paul(ph) in Oakland. I had a terrible stroller that was deeply flawed. The company was a pretty good one. But this was the Ford Pinto of strollers. When I asked them to take it back, they did not. I then went to a few review sites and added a review to every place I could find for that model. I found a couple of other reviewers doing the same thing.

The company responded by issuing new colors. Reviews were often attached to particular colors, so the new ones helped hide my reviews. I just coming back every once in a while and put my review on to the new color as my complaint was with the frame design and build. It is now a discontinued model, which suggests that, A, that Paul was pretty irritated and a bad idea to irritate Paul.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Well, baby gear especially changes almost every year and they change the upholstery colors, you know, to go with whatever the decorator colors are for that particular year. So that's not unusual. However, it is a continual frustration at Amazon and at other sites because the little identifying numbers, the AISINs change every year. And that's what associates a product review with a product.

So if you have a product that's kept the same name, everything else is the same, except that it changed from blue color to a green color, you lose those reviews. Now you can backtrack. I mean, the nice thing about Amazon is that for - even for discontinued products, they generally leave the information online. So you can do a little extra investigative work and you can look at last year's reviews.

CONAN: And I wonder, are - do product manufacturers have departments that they might now use this phrase - do war with consumer reviews?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: I wouldn't call it war. I mean, I think if you were - if they were smart, they wouldn't call it war. Manufacturers, after an initial knee-jerk reaction of being horrified to read negative reviews of their products, many of them have actually started to embrace that and respond to readers. I mean, what's the biggest frustration you have when you have a lemon of a product? It's a bad response from the manufacturer. Either you feel ignored or you feel like you're shoved into a corner. You just want somebody to help fix your problem.

A lot of manufacturers are using their social media teams to actually respond to people. And if you make that public and let people know that they're actually going to get some good response from you, I think that says a lot about the company.

CONAN: We're talking about reviewing the reviewers. Our guest, Christine Frietchen of - the editor in chief of consumer - consumersearch.com. I'll get that right.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an email from Dennis(ph) in Traverse City, Michigan. A lot of listeners up there. I like to rent before I buy to try the brand for myself. I do read reviews and take them with a grain of salt. Consumers Reports, I read but filter it by reading the fine details and determine what factors are important to me. I rent a model of car on vacation or rent lawn equipment from a local firm to see how an item works on the job.

That's an approach that may work with some products, cars, for example. May not work so well for others. Hard to rent a blender.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: That's true. But, you know, you could kind of rent a mattress. A lot of hotels now feature these Marquis mattresses, like the Tempur-Pedic or, you know, the Dream mattress. And if you're considering a mattress purchase, especially something like memory foam, which you maybe haven't slept on before...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: ...I mean, one way to try before you buy is to, you know, book a night at a hotel and actually try sleeping on a memory foam mattress.

CONAN: Here's a tweet from Dr. Greatest(ph). He advices go abroad. The British photo mags give full reviews. The American ones are glorified press releases for the manufacturers.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: There are some excellent foreign magazines. Now, the products don't always match up. That's to be sure. A lot of electronics don't (unintelligible) different.

CONAN: They put the steering wheel on that other side for one thing, yeah?

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, exactly. But I'll tell you, for Consumer Search report on snow tires, we actually found the best reviews in Scandinavia. So we've actually translated some of those reviews and read them for research.

CONAN: Let's go to Dan(ph), Dan with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.

DAN (Caller): Hi, are you there?

CONAN: Dan, go ahead quickly please.

DAN: Sorry about that. I had to turn my GPS off. It was yelling at me.

CONAN: Yeah.

DAN: A couple of quick points. Being one that has done some shopping on Amazon and Overstock and so on, I'm one of the lazy ones that tend not to give reviews. I just, you know, keep going. And I was hoping that there would be some benefit to the no news is good news that associate with the star reports, and that is, why don't the sites use a very simple metric of how many units sold versus how many units returned, and not have to rely on someone actually taking the time to do a review?

Secondly, just real quick. I wish a lot more sites would utilize a survey to accumulate information and come up with a star-based review versus data being skewed by someone giving a one-star review because, you know, delivery person left the item in the rain or something like that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, Christine, we just have a few seconds left, but quickly respond. The units sold versus units returned ratio seems like a pretty good idea.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: It does except that most of these user reviews are posted on retail sites. I'm not sure they'd really want to tell you how many were returned. It's a good idea. I like it. And as for the - what was the other comment about...

CONAN: I forgot, too.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Yeah, I forgot.

CONAN: Dan, what was that second point?

DAN: If they don't want to disclose how many units sold, maybe the units sold versus units returned could be expressed in a percentage.

CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much for the call, Dan. Appreciate it. Drive carefully and listen to that GPS.

DAN: We will. Thanks.

CONAN: All right, bye-bye. Christine Frietchen, thank you very much for your time today.

Ms. FRIETCHEN: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

CONAN: Christine Frietchen, editor in chief of consumersearch.com, with us today from our bureau in New York.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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