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Enter any marketplace and you are faced with thousands of products. How do you choose which to buy? Any selection depends on a number of factors and it is the careful weighing up of the benefits that ultimately leads us to make a decision. Comparison shopping is the process of researching and decision making in this context.

What is quality?

In commercial terms, we measure quality by the ability of a product to meet standards and/or requirements. Manufacturing companies usually set the minimum standards of production but the demands of the consumer often dictate the requirements.

Identifying need

A personal need for a product will motivate you to seek that product and give you an idea of the functions or specifications you would like from the product. Specifications may include its appearance, its size, its value and how well it satisfies your requirements.

If you wish to buy a car to transport your family of four, you will therefore seek to purchase a vehicle with the capacity to carry four or more people.

Durability

One of the most common methods of judging a product's quality is by its durability, that is, how long it will last. For a valuable purchase, this may be the most important factor. For consumable items, durability may relate to volume.

If you bought a desktop printer, for example, you would look at its ability to handle the workload to which it will be subjected. You might also look at the volume of the printer cartridges and how many pages of printing you might get from each cartridge.

Efficiency

Efficiency is a measure of how well the product fulfils your requirements with available resources. For some products, efficiency will be more important than for others, especially vehicles and household goods compared with consumables like food.

Due to the increasing concern regarding energy and water use, items such as washing machines now have energy and water ratings showing how well they perform. Buying a fuel-efficient car means that you can drive further on less petrol.

Price

The price of an item may alter your perception of the quality of the product. Return to the initial definition of quality - the item's ability to fulfil your requirements. If more than one item fulfils your requirements, you may look to a difference in price to make a decision on which to buy. Sometimes you may sacrifice some of your requirements for a less expensive item. For example, you might want a dining table stained mahogany but the furniture retailer has a half-price special on chestnut coloured tables, which you are prepared to accept.

Other factors relating to price include the hidden costs, which is where your judgement on durability and efficiency may come into play. The initial cost may be different, but you also need to consider the ongoing costs.

Compare these items; a refrigerator bought for $400 lasting four years and using $50 worth of energy a year or a refrigerator bought for $800 lasting ten years and using $30 worth of energy a year. Even though you paid more upfront for the $800 fridge, over a ten-year period you would receive more value for money from this purchase because it is cheaper to run and lasts longer. This also occurs with consumable items. For example, an electric toothbrush may require specific brush heads, so you would need to consider the price of those brush heads in your decision to buy an electric toothbrush.

After-sales support

Even after you have considered all these aspects of a purchase, you may still need to think of the future of the product. An item that has a long warranty may represent greater value than one without a warranty. A service may be included with the purchase that may increase the value of the product, for example, professional installation of a household item.

Well-known brands usually have customer support for consumers who are unhappy with their purchase, which is why you may pay more compared with brands without after-sales support. After-sales support includes the option of returning the product for a replacement. The value of after-sales support is your satisfaction and peace of mind.


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1. If you had limited resources, which requirement would interest you the most?

Efficiency

Size

Brand

Colour

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