104. Consumer Research Database

One large, centralized, internet-based, freely accessible, public database should serve as a centralized repository for virtually all relevant information concerning any business, product, service, pricing, or service facility that virtually any consumer or prospective consumer may find necessary or informative. Having such information organized in one place would enable people to more easily research products to better meet their needs or wants. As a result, far less time, energy, and money would be wasted on junk or things that don’t quite fulfill.

Business Information

Every business and company, including educational businesses, should have a brief description of itself and the kinds of products or services it sells and a short history summarizing its existence. People should be able to look up information on a company by either entering its name, telephone number, or address. Searchers should be able to look up information like the business’s license status, records of any complaints and their subsequent resolution, and any other relevant information that would help determine a business’s quality and credibility. Accreditation information, if applicable, should also be stated.

Product Information

Virtually all products and services valued at over $20 offered on the planet (or at least within the country) by every company and business should be listed on its own webpage within this database. Each product or service should be given a complete, detailed description complete with large, detailed pictures showing the product up close and from all angles. The quality of the images and the type of information placed on a product’s webpage should be roughly equivalent as to what would be gathered by a person who visits a store and personally handles and inspects the product. Each product’s webpage would also have a quick reference section summarizing the categories of complaints and praises filed under it. The companies themselves ought to supply continuous follow up information on their products, such as the number of customer repair calls and other claims made (and for what specific aspect of the product such calls were made), the number of returns, the total number of products sold, and any other information that would be helpful to consumers.

Product Discontinuation Notices

Product discontinuation notices should also be posted in this database as soon as the manufacturer makes their decision. Large companies/businesses planning to discontinue any of their products should be encouraged to inform all of their distributors and regular customers with plenty of time (minimum of one month, three months suggested) so that they would be able to place a reasonably sized order for that product before it becomes discontinued.

Customer Product Reviews

Customers who can provide proof of having actually purchased a product or service should be allowed to fill out a short survey and write a review and praise and/or criticize the product or service in whatever detail and to whatever lengths they desire. In the short survey, customers would state how long they have owned or have been using the product or service (since this is always a very important factor) and they would then be allowed to rate the product or service. A list of each of a product’s features could be listed and under each feature, the customer or reviewer could write what the pros and cons are about that specific feature. In the optional review section, customers can recommend suggestions for improving a product or service or offer any other useful information.

Customer Service Reviews

It is relatively easy to understand how product information and ratings could be gathered and made available over the Internet, but information about services such as lawyers, financial planners, counselors, weight loss programs, invention companies, car repair shops, investment companies, health care providers (including doctors as well as different types of medical treatment services), etc., could also be gathered in a similar manner. By having previous consumers of that service write reviews, potential consumers could find out both the good and the bad about these service providers as well as more about what these people do (any specializations, etc.), their history in the profession, discipline or punishments by the profession, customer satisfaction rates, and any other relevant information.

Such a website would be invaluable to people researching whether or not to purchase certain products or services. This website would be the only place consumers would need to go to research a purchase of any product or service. Consumers would merely need to search for and select the proper products or services in which they are interested and all the complaints as well as praises would show up right there. Manufactures and service providers would also benefit by finding out in more detail how to better a product or service and what it is that consumers desire.

Pricing Information

All service providers should be required to state their prices in this database for each of the services they offer. This includes all healthcare providers (dentists, ophthalmologists, etc.) and other service providers whose actual prices may not be readily disclosed or available to consumers because of pricing complications due to insurance coverage or other forms of payment assistance, discounting, etc.

These prices should be made available in at least two forms. First, the full retail, unsubsidized, pre-insurance prices should be stated so that a person without insurance would know exactly how much a service would cost if chosen. Second, consumers should be allowed to enter their insurance information into this database and all the prices for each of the services should then automatically be broken down and listed in detail (how much would be paid by the insurance, how much by the individual [such as co-payments, etc.], etc.)

This website should also contain information about the prices of virtually every single kind of used item of various different ages and conditions. For example, if someone wants to find out how much something that they own costs, whether it is an old newspaper, clock radio, baseball cards, toys, piles of dirt from the backyard, scrap wood, or anything else, they should be able to find some indication of how much its worth (even if its just recycling value) and who, if anyone, is willing to purchase it. Anybody wanting to obtain some toys or a pile of dirt should also be able to enter search terms for those items and find people who want to give or sell such items. All these searches should also be geographically-based. This means that people could search only for buyers and sellers either within a certain radius of where they are located or within specified political jurisdictions, like cities or counties. A well developed and mature product and service information and pricing website would naturally evolve into a popular, centralized point of reference for everyone’s product and service information and pricing needs.

Information About Educational Facilities

All educational facilities should be required to place at least basic information about who they are (including history, etc.), what programs and courses they offer, accreditation credentials, and any other essential information that consumers (including parents) would find necessary to make informed decisions about attending, or sending their kids to attend, such educational facilities. The facility’s plans for the future, lists of the names of important personnel (like administrators) with brief biographies, student rankings on tests or other measures (if applicable), important or significant statistics and other information that may commonly be requested by parents, students, or other interested individuals should also be stated in this database.

Standardized Formatting of This Information

The formatting of all the information in this database should be standardized as much as possible to make it easier for consumers to compare between competing products or services. Every product should have a listing and description of virtually each one of its feature. In addition, all products within the same category should be listed using the same standards and especially using the same formats. Having every products webpage formatted the same would make comparing different products (within the same category) far, far, easier. To make such a service far more useful, people should be able click on each one of a product’s features and read both more details about that feature from the manufacturer as well as reviews and comments about that specific feature by professional product review agencies or consumers who have provided proof that they have purchased the product or service. People who haven’t purchased the product should not be able to post a comment or review. Lastly people who post a comment or review must state when they have purchased the product, how often they use it, and any other relevant information that would be useful to others considering a purchase.

Product Registration & Recall Database

This database should also function as a centralized product registration and recall information hub. All products that are required or recommended to be registered with the manufacture for whatever reason, or recalled, should allow consumers to do so (or gain more information about these procedures) from links on that product’s webpage on this database. As a prerequisite for the re-registration of products (such as vehicles, etc.), this database would provide information concerning any outstanding recalls or other important requirement that need to be taken care of before registration and would require that consumers indicate that they have been officially notified of these things.

Manufacturers should be required to insert a “Notice to Register” card or flyer into the box or packaging of every relevant product notifying the consumer of the requirement to register the product with the manufacturer or government. Such registration notices would help increase product registration rates, thus helping create more complete ownership records, so that companies and governments can more effectively contact and warn consumers about defects in their products, explain the procedures for getting them repaired, and explain possible partial or full liability shifts to the consumer that would occur if no action is taken by the consumer to rectify the announced defects in the product. These “Notice to Register” cards should include a telephone number, address, and, of course, this database’s website for the purchaser to contact to get information about potential recalls or defect warnings concerning the purchased product. However, if the purchaser properly filled out the registration information but cannot be contacted for whatever reason, the responsibility to find and inform consumers would lie with the manufactures of problem products. Manufactures should have the freedom to use various means to try to track down customers who may have moved or cannot be contacted for other reasons. These would include a search of “change of address” forms filed with the Post Office, “change of telephone number” databases of the phone companies, or other such means. Only these reasonable efforts would be required and if contact still cannot be made, companies would not be held liable.

Accreditation

Accreditation agencies should publish complete lists of each entity which they have accredited.

Product/Service Price History

It would be nice to also have a historical pricing database for each product or service or each type of product or service detailing how the high, low, and average prices for such products or services have changed over time since the date the product or service was first sold. For example, if a consumer wanted to know the price history for a 15 inch, CRT color television, they would be able to see a chart going back to when 15 inch, CRT color TVs were first produced. For each year, from its introduction all the way to the present (or the most recent year in which such products were sold, if they are currently discontinued), this database would state the high, low and average prices (averaged among all manufacturers) at which a 15 inch, CRT TV has sold. If the consumer was interested in only the prices relating to specific manufacturer, the consumer would be able to narrow the search to only include such information for a Sony brand 15 inch, CRT color TV. Consumers should also be able to view historical price data for only one specific model, as well.

Funding

This consumer research database could be funded through government general fund revenues since it has such a broad, comprehensive purpose.


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