Not All Online Review Sites are Created Equal
The internet is an interesting place. People think they use it to learn, expand their horizons, share photos, and network with other people. The truth is, however, that people use the internet to complain. Think back on your last few purchases and your last few service industry experiences, what do you remember? Most of the time people remember the extremes, the really good or the really bad. Now think about what you did with that information, chances are the really good experiences you maybe told some close friends or family about but the really bad experiences, those you preached from the rooftops to anyone who would listen. The internet’s version of “the rooftops” is the review site.
Review sites provide a valuable service and on paper, they sound great, a great service for consumers. Making an informed decision about a purchase or a company/person to hire use to be getting a handful of recommendations and/or reviews for from those persons closest to you, those whom you trust most. Today your access to reviews and recommendations are limited only by the service coverage area of the company or the distribution of the product. All this information is, on paper, supposed to make the process of being an informed consumer easier and more complete but it can easily have the opposite effect. How can having 200 reviews verses 6 be a bad thing? Perspective. With perspective on all of those reviews they can be fantastic rather than overwhelming and unhelpful.
Consider those that are posting reviews. Consider how much effort it actually takes to post a review. Retailers try and make it easy to post a review, they send you reminders and even provide simple submission forms. But for someone to take the time to find a review site, register an account, create and craft the review, and post it the reviewer has to be really passionate about their experience and nothing creates passion like anger. According to MarketingCharts.com consumers with a negative experience are 50% more likely to share that negative experience on social media than user with a positive experience. Similarly those same people are also 52% more likely to post a matching negative review to a site like Yelp! than users with a positive experience. That is what perspective is in the context of this article, remember the type of people that leave reviews on the review sites. With that in mind you can remember that individual reviews should be taken for less than face value, personally I recommend taking them for no more than 50% of face value.
Something else to consider, and the primary focus of this article, is what site you are reading. Not all review sites are created equal. All of these types of sites can be subdivided into two groups: 1) Legitimate consumer education sites and 2) Gripe sites. The difference between the two is pretty stark.
Legitimate Consumer Education and Review sites like TrustPilot or SiteJabber and of course the BBB exist. These sites are above board and are designed with some key features for connecting reviewers with each other and with the companies being reviewed. Sites like these also tend to provide detailed submission options that allow a reviewer to pinpoint details of their experience with the company. Things like Pro’s, Con’s, Star ratings, whether it was product (and what kind of product) or a service (and what kind of service), often times there is a ratings metric for the reviews themselves too like a Thumbs Up from other users that found it helpful. Some sites even require some form of proof that the person was a customer. All of these things tools are put in place by the site’s designers to actually help give important details, add context, and filter out those that just want to complain a little, all of which all adds up to better and more impartial reviews. Lastly these sites usually have a way for companies to buy in at reasonable rates, these sites are private businesses of course and have to earn, which allow said companies to post replies to reviews, interact with customers, and hopefully demonstrate a willingness to turn a negative into a positive all in front of other users.
Conversely Gripe Sites strip all, or most, of these great features out of the review process. Often times these sites are obviously just for complaining and attract only users with bad experiences. Some sites will by the very nature of their domain names attract people that are pissed off or feel ripped off and give those people a platform from which to complain. A reviewer isn’t required to provide any evidence that they are actually customers or that they ever have been which leads to disreputable reviews like “my brother’s friend’s mom said xyz” while also opening the door for outright fake reviews by those interested in hurting a company. While its human nature to complain and it’s hard to begrudge anyone that opportunity what happens after even legitimate complaints are posted is what makes these sites bad and even dangerous. Reviews don’t carry any context because the person posting the review is simply given a big white box in which they type the complaint verses specific questions or ratings for elements of their experiences. Businesses have complained about gripe sites operating pay to moderate services covered in recent court cases against Yelp.
Not all product review sites are created equal. We all have bad experiences with companies but what do you really want after you’ve had said experience? If you are looking into a purchase or a service and you are searching reviews remember that the site has a lot to do with what kind of reviews you will see and don’t kid yourself, those reviews will be curated so treat the reviews with caution. Happy reviewing!