How to Be a
Smart Consumer:

Moving Beyond the Advertisements
to Select the Right Digital Camera
for Your Needs and Budget

An Online Database Exploration Lesson
for 12th Grade Economics

Designed by Susan Connell

Introduction | Acquaint | Ask | Arrange | Apply | Evaluation |Credits | Teacher Page


In this age of rampant consumerism, the old adage "Let the Buyer Beware" has never been more relevant. New and traditional media are full of messages proclaiming the virtues of all sorts of products from food to medicine to entertainment to electronics. However, it is important for a wise consumer to look beyond the advertising to avoid regret when making purchasing decisions.

Many of you will be graduating soon and may be getting graduation gifts or money that will go towards the latest electronic gadgets. In addition, most of you are entering the job force and may have your own money to spend on these items. This database exploration will guide you through an exercise in wisely selecting consumer electronics based on value and specifications rather than marketing hype. In this case the product example will be a digital camera, but the lessons learned can apply to a wide range of equipment.

Acquaint Yourself

In this activity you will explore an independent database of product reviews and information published by CNET, which describes itself as a "trusted source of information for millions of technology consumers around the world... CNET provides expert and unbiased advice on technology products and services to inform users and expedite purchasing. Integrating an extensive directory of more than 200,000 computer, technology, and consumer electronics products with editorial content, downloads, trends, reviews and price comparisons, CNET gives users the most up-to-date and efficient shopping resources on the Web."

A database is a collection of information that can be viewed in different ways that enable the user to search, organize or tabulate it as part of an analytical or decision-making process.

To familiarize yourself with the CNET technology product database, go to the entry point of the reviews section at Reviews.

  • List at least six of the main categories of products included in the Reviews database. (You'll find this answer by viewing the product icons across the top of the page and in the "Latest Reviews by Category" section.
  • What are three of the top 20 items in the "Top 100 Hardware Searches" that you will find from a link towards the bottom of the page?
  • In the "Latest Reviews by Category" section, click on the Digital Camera heading and list three of the manufacturers and three types of digital cameras covered.

Ask for Information

Imagine that you are a budding amateur photographer and have saved up $400 to buy a new digital camera. You want to make sure that the camera has all of the features that you will use and you want to make sure that you get the most value for your money. You are looking for something that provides more than just "point-and-shoot" features and good enough picture quality to make 8x10 prints.

  • Using CNET Digital Camera Reviews as a reference, identify at least 4-5 cameras that would fit in your budget.
  • Format a new spreadsheet document (in Excel, AppleWorks or similar program) and list each of the selected camera models at the top of each column, leaving the first column blank. (If you would like a head start formatting the spreadsheet, you can use this template - it's in Excel format, so you'll need that program or one that can read Excel files to open it. On some computers, clicking on the template link will open the file in a new window. On others, it will download the file to your desktop.)
  • In the first column, starting with the second row, list 8-10 camera features (zoom, flash, type of metering, type of memory, cost, etc.) or specification categories (weight, size, resolution, etc.) that would be important for the type of photography that you want to do.
  • Leave a blank column in between each camera so that you can score its features in the next part of thee assignment.
  • In the column under each camera you have listed, fill in the information about each of the specifications and features listed in the left-hand column.

Arrange the Answers

Now that you have listed the key features and specifications of the selected cameras, you should weight each feature as a percentage by its relative importance so that the total value of all the features is 100%. (For example: If you especially want a compact camera, you might assign a greater weight to the camera's size than to how much memory it has.)

Next, it's time to assign a score to each feature, multiply the score by that feature's relative weight and rank the cameras according to the weighted scores you have assigned.

Apply What You've Learned

Using a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks, briefly answer the following questions:

  • Which camera had the highest score based on the criteria you established?
  • What features contributed to making it the winner?
  • How close were the scores between the cameras? Was one camera significantly better than the others or did several of them have similar scores?
  • Before you did the analysis, could you easily tell which camera would get the highest score? Is the camera with the highest score the one you would have chosen to purchase if you were buying a camera? Why or why not?
  • Are there other factors that you would like to take into account if you were making this purchase (such as product reviews, "test driving" the camera at a store, recommendations from friends, etc.)?
  • Are there shortcomings to ONLY using a scoring system such as this when making a purchase decision? What might they be?
  • Did the database appear to be unbiased? Are there factors on this web site that may have affected the information you obtained? What other information on the site could help you make a decision such as this?


Your grade for this assignment will be based on the matrix below:

1 = not acceptable       2 = could be better     3 = acceptable     4 = outstanding

The database was adequately searched.
Student completed the spreadsheet task with the requested number of cameras and features.
Student scored all of the cameras completely and tallied the scores according to the directions.
In the written task, student demonstrated understanding of the scoring system, including its possible drawbacks. 


You might not want to go to the trouble of putting together an elaborate spreadsheet every time you make a purchase, however it is always important to be aware of aspects of a product that may not be obvious in advertising or from your friend's recommendation. It's also important to know that there are many tools available online, in libraries and at your local newsstand that can provide at least somewhat objective information about all sorts of products.

But it's also good to realize that it's not possible to quantify every aspect of a product. Sometimes you might like what you like just because... As long as you've done your homework and make that purchase understanding the pros and cons, that's OK, because you'll be an informed consumer.

Credits & References

Photos are used by license from

We all benefit by being generous with our work. Permission is hereby granted for other educators to copy this lesson, update or otherwise modify it, and post it elsewhere provided that the original author's name is retained along with a link back to the original URL of this lesson. On the line after the original author's name, you may add Modified by (Your Name) on (Date). If you do modify it, please let me know and provide the new URL.

Last updated on Sunday, June 29, 2003 3:28 PM . Based on a template from EDTEC 570