Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Best Blu Ray Media Stores Review

Blu Ray blank media guide : Best Blu Ray media stores
Best Blu Ray Media Stores Review Part 1: Best Online Stores Criteria

 The DVD reference site digitalFAQ.com has an excellent and well-maintained list of the best places to buy DVD blank media on line. When we reviewed the Blu Ray forums and the store offerings, we found out, however, that the best places to buy Blu Ray media on line were somewhat different from those from which to buy DVD media. In many cases, the Blu Ray blank media inventory was poor, expensive, or sharply targeted at no-name or unreliable brands. So, to investigate what the best online stores for Blu Ray media were, we went on Blu Ray fan forums, scouring references to the best stores, and we ran deep product searches on Google, going to the 25th page for most common Blu Ray media. This is what we found.

What Makes For a Good Blu Ray Media Store

Broad inventory
One the first attributes we looked at was the quality of the inventory. A good online store has to have a broad inventory of Blu Ray media, typically 50 to 100 different media, hopefully more. We need to be able to have a good choice of media, in each format (BD-R LTH, BD-R, BD-R DL, BD-RE, BD-RE DL). We prefer products with spindles, because the unit cost is typically much lower. In particular, we found some online retailers with a broad inventory and some high quality brands, but where the bulk of the SKUs is packaged in jewel cases, which makes them prohibitively expensive when purchased in large numbers.

Wide Set of Suppliers
We were expecting that a broad inventory would automatically give us a lot of choice in suppliers, in particular for us to be able to get to the suppliers we like, which we have identified are quality suppliers. It turns out that some suppliers specialize in a very small number of brands, such as Verbatim, through which they carry multiple tens of SKUs. While we truly appreciate inventory depth in a given product line, we also need supplier variety. We also saw retailers with a large inventory, but where practically all of the suppliers are low-end media factoring brands, such as Kodak, Maxell, or Memorex. We do not like this pattern either: it is OK to carry a few cheap brands and SKUs, but we also need solid quality suppliers.In order to evaluate how good the inventory was for each store, we tracked 89 media which we felt were representative, and counted, for each store, how many of these media the store had in its inventory. We also specifically counted how many of the quality Blu Ray we selected here for archival grade were carried by the stores we evaluated.

When you are going through 100 or more different SKUs, and trying to compare them two by two, looking at speed, price, printability or formats, it is not easy to deal with flat lists of media. When doing comparisons, we quickly found out that the ability to sort results quickly makes a huge difference to identifying the right media (or the lack thereof) efficiently.
A good store will give you access to blank Blu Ray media as category, then allow the user the ability to quickly select by format (BD-R, BD-RE), by capacity (standard or DL), speed, printability, quantity of media in the pack, and manufacturer. It will also allow you to sort your results by price, by best selling order, by most reviews, and by user rating. You would like to be able to see user ratings for the items not only in the product pages, but also in the category listing pages so that you don't have to open every product page to see what rating the SKU has.  An extra-good store will also give you the price per disc unit, on top of the pack price, so that you do not have to use a calculator as you go, comparing unit costs.
This makes 13 different ways to sort, bin or order SKUs, which we counted for each store. We would have liked to be able to sort on unit price (as opposed to SKU price) as well, but did not find a single store that gives you the option. To evaluate how well a store performed, we counted how many types of sorts, among the ones we are looking for, the store could provide us.

Browsing speed
We often needed to view 30 to 40 pages per site, to be able to do good shopping comparisons. We quickly discovered that the speed of the site made a big difference to our shopping experience. The slowest sites could take 3.5 to sometimes 7 seconds to respond, while the speediest ones took little more than the time to reposition your fingers after a click. To get some numerical value of how well a store did, we ran 10 right-click look-ups from the category listing pages exactly consecutively, and timed how long it took for each store.

Clearly, we expect good prices from a good online store. We rated online stores in two ways. For each product in our sample list of 89 SKUs which more than one store had in inventory, we kept track of which store had the lowest price, and how much higher each store's price was compared to the "best" price across the stores we tracked. Then, for each store, we counted how many products matched the best price across all stores, and, on average, how much more expensive they were (as explained above, we excluded products which only one store had in stock). We also kept track, specifically for the 6 media we selected earlier as best archival grade media, of what the store overprice was for the basket of selected media it carried.

Customer service
As we all know, online shopping is fraught with peril, although, by now, our readers buy a majority of their non-food purchases online. Selecting a good online store is a process which must rely heavily on the quality of the retailer's customer service. For this, we used store ratings from ResellerRatings and Google Shopping when they were available. In order to take into account the number of ratings or the lack thereof, we calculated a predictive Customer Support rating by lowering the rating from each by its statistical margin of error, and by averaging the two for each store. Since a low number of reviews will increase the statistical margin of error, this means that stores with few ratings receive a lower predictive CS rating.

User reviews
Nothing can replace user reviews to find out how good the media is - we need to be able to read other users' experiences, in particularly for off brands, and validate both quality and Media IDs, in particular when the media is outsourced. Sites need to provide for user reviews, but they also need to have large numbers of them. This rarely happens when the reviews are hidden in a subtle tab under the product listing. For users to be motivated to write reviews, the reviews need to be highly visible, and be readable on the product page itself. A site with a good number of user reviews has a significant leg up. For each store, we kept track of how many Blu Ray media user reviews were available on the site, if any.

Next we screen Blu Ray online stores... so come back soon!

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