From time to time, questions pop up where the asker is having trouble locating a product they like. For the most part, it seems like they want the community to help them shop. Since these questions are usually very localized; and usually closed, should we add something to the faq to discourage these types of questions?

Example.

I'm not saying all product type questions should be disallowed, some product type questions are great.

How do I choose a circular saw?
What are the things to look out for when buying a motion detector?

It would just be nice to try to discourage questions that basically ask, "Could you search Amazon for me?"

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I've added the following to the FAQ off-topic section: "Product recommendations or brand specific advice." –  BMitch Sep 21 '12 at 23:24

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Shopping recommendations are normally off topic anywhere on Stack Exchange as outlined in this blog post:

Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!

However, there are circumstances in DIY where you need to know what tool you need to complete a job - two out of my three questions on the site fit into this:

What can I use to drill dowel holes down the end of a long piece of wood?

Are either of these tools suitable for tightening the pipe union nut underneath a bath?

These are OK as they are asking for the correct tool to do the job - which will help future visitors (hopefully!) - not "where do I buy X?"

Now these are different from the question you link to:

Where can I find Non-ugly ceiling mounted CFL or LED lamp holders?

which is a pure shopping recommendation and should be closed as too localised.

I'm not adverse to amending the FAQ to make "where do I buy X?" questions off topic.

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I think the key difference is "What the heck should I be looking for?" is ok. "Where can I find..." isn't –  Chris Cudmore Jul 25 '12 at 14:06
    
To be even more specific, "what features should I consider" is probably the ideal way to ask these types of questions –  Brad Mace Jul 28 '12 at 2:25

I see three basic categories of these questions, in decreasing order of usefulness:

  1. "I need to do a specific task; what do I need to buy?" Recent example:

  2. "I have a specific product in mind, can't find it, but really I just want to do whatever the product is designed to help me with." Recent examples:

    The first question got an answer offering what the OP asked for as well as several alternatives. The second one, while it looks like a shopping question, is really asking how to dig a tunnel under a paved path and could be edited into that form, making it an unambiguously on-topic question.

  3. "Shop for me." Recent examples:

    Vote to close and downvote, at your discretion.

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Author of the ignominious NM cable clamp question here. The key info communicated by answers to that question isn't actually "where to buy" but "what to buy": 3/4-in fits 1/2-in knockout; you can search for 1/2-in till blue in the face and find nothing, which I did, hence the frustrated "where are they hiding these?" question. Some liberal editing on both my part and the respondents' would hopefully make that clear. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Jul 27 '12 at 23:41

Since I've seen a lot of push back when enforcing this policy, here's my rule of thumb (so I don't have to repeat it every time someone questions the policy):

If the OP would consider their question answered by a link to a product, then it's likely shopping advice and I'll close it.

If the question is about what type of tools and materials would solve a problem, then I would consider it on topic. If someone needs a "thingamajig" and just didn't know that's what they were called, or that "thingamajigs" are made for their problem, then it's on topic. If someone wants to know who makes a particular "thingamajig" and where they can find one, that's off topic. If you need a "thingamajig" that has some specific capabilities that you can't find anywhere, then it's off topic.

Common complaints on this policy include "there are old questions that are shopping questions" and "there are answers that include product links". For old questions, we don't retroactively enforce these policies. So a lot of questions were asked while the site was still determining what our scope was and would no longer be on topic if asked today. And for answers, if the product link is supporting the rest of the answer, and not an explicit product recommendation (spam), then that's allowed. My line is drawn not when answers include a product, but when questions are asking for a product.

I also frequently get asked to consider reopening a question after the OP rewords their question to not directly ask for a product, but where a link to a product would still be the best answer for them. Removing details and rephrasing things to avoid asking your actual question are the exact opposite purposes of the edit link, and so I typically ignore those requests. Very rarely do I reopen a "shop for me" question after it's been edited, since unlike ambiguous questions where added detail can save a question, or overly localized questions where they can be rephrased to apply to a greater audience, shopping questions can't be edited to be a better shopping question that would then be on topic.

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As an aside, any time a question is off topic for the Q&A site, you can consider coming over to the chat room and asking in there. It's lightly used and a response may be slow, but the off topic rules don't apply there. –  BMitch May 27 at 19:39

I'm a bit more tolerant. Certain items are hard to find, or only available from a specialty retailer who supplies a completely different trade than one would expect. It's not so much a shopping question as a plea for help.

my criteria is more along the lines of "If the guy in the blue or orange shirt can answer by pointing, it's off topic". But, if the item is unusual or hard to find, such that you would ask a contractor where he gets it, then it's not shopping, it's materials supply management.

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