So in the recent holidays, I shopped for many a thing for various gifts - and something occurred to me, as I was looking at the brands and options available; the paradox of the modern consumer is that there are no reliable quality signals any more.
There were a lot of brands I’d never heard of, and this was in areas like consumer electronics and small appliances and tools, where I’ve probably heard of all the brands worth hearing about by now.
My first thought was “These new brands are probably direct-to-consumer Chinese brands, aka cheap chinese crap formerly only sold on Alibaba, but now everywhere thanks to Amazon and Ebay and Newegg’s policies of letting anyone sell anything on their platforms.”
But then if you think one level deeper, all the “real” brands are made in China, too. They are in theory equally likely to be cheap Chinese crap, or conversely, it is almost certain that some of these new never-heard-before Chinese brands are of equal quality as existing well-recognized name brands, due to coming from literally the same production line. It’s also a certainty that a lot of the “real” brands are cheaping out on components and build and materials in various ways, either intentionally or non, and their products are probably equally likely to be substandard compared to where they used to be and the existing field, which includes the new never-heard brands.
In sum, there are no reliable quality signals any more. Of the triad of brand name, price, and reviews, brand name and price have been diluted to near-uselessness for all except the highest-tier (Snap-On, Bosch and the like). Reviews are about the best you can do, but they are frequently gamed, and you can probably only really trust things with 500 or more reviews - but you can’t find items that well reviewed in all the categories of things you buy. This is a classic problem that the invisible hand theoretically solves, but I’m not sure a solution is here yet - so I turn to the fine body intellectual of Dopers!
What strategies do you follow to maximize the quality of your purchases, specifically in the fields of small appliances, consumer electronics, and tools?
Related, if you had no or only a few suspect reviews for the particular item you were looking at, what strategies would you follow to try to make the best decision?