Online Reviews: Useful Guides or Not Worth The (Virtual) Paper They Are Written On?
Did you buy a coffee today? Perhaps you bought a book you heard about from the weekend papers or maybe a shirt you bought online showed up? If so, the chances are that for at least two of the items (and quite possibly for all three), you have been asked to rate the service or product.
Reviews can be good. If you are an entrepreneur launching a new business or product, why wouldn’t you want to know what your first customers really think?
Reviews can be bad. Last week, I received a request to complete a review for a day course I undertook 8 months ago. Then there are those businesses who ask you to complete an assessment there and then, right under their noses. Being typically British, I wonder how many of us really say what we think in front of them?
Reviews can also be works of fiction.
Here then is a short list of issues to be aware of before entrusting your hard earned money to 5 star reviews:
You may have heard of The Sunday Times expose last year. In a nutshell, a journalist produced an error strewn e-book over the course of a weekend. By buying fake reviews from sites allegedly including Freelancer and Fiverr, they were able to propel the book to the top of the relevant chart.
The cost of appearing in the top spot of the “Gardening and Horticultural” category for UK kindle? Just £56.
Tradespeople You Use.
Good, trustworthy tradespeople are like gold dust. When you are new to an area or need a tradesperson for the first time, there is a multitude of sites that claim to offer vetted and rated people to help do the job required. With my property background, I have used sites to find plumbers, roofers and handymen and in my experience, the end quality bears only a moderate correlation to the ratings.
Think about it. You use an electrician for the first time. He or she does a good job, but arrived half an hour late and left a bit of a mess. Along with the invoice comes a request to complete a rating of various aspects of their work. Are you really going to mark them down for their tardiness and their mess, if they did actually get the job done for a fair price? If you do, there is a strong chance they will find out and you will be left to find a new electrician.
A restauranter I know in SW London reckons that over the course of most weekends, someone dining at his restaurant will enjoy a meal and then, when the bill arrives, fabricate a complaint. They will go on to threaten to leave a damning review unless the meal is heavily discounted or given for free. Fortunately, this person runs a long standing well liked neighbourhood restaurant and he is able to tell such people where to go.
What this means, though, is some very good businesses are reluctant to go on review sites.
Fortunately for me, a couple who own a B&B at a venue where I can sometimes be found sailing run what I believe to be the best B&B in the area. They do not appear on any review sites and as a result, do not appear in hotel / B&B rankings. If I only looked on the likes of Trip Adviser, I wouldn’t know they existed.
Most automated online sites do at least ask for prompt feedback and can establish whether or not an individual has actually booked and stayed at a hotel, for example. Other companies make surveys anonymous or collect feedback through certified independent third parties, which I suspect improves the quality of that feedback.
Many don’t. You know the ones. Having paid up for day’s course, a piece of paper or a video camera is thrust at you at the end.
With your day’s teacher looking on or even recording you, how many people would genuinely make a criticism, however constructive?
Online reviews are here to stay and like so many things in life, can offer a useful guide if not followed blindly.
If you run a business, they can provide an excellent opportunity to address legitimate complaints or concerns. If you fail to do so, you will be judged accordingly.
If you are an individual looking to buy something, I would take personal recommendations from my own network over online comments but if that is not possible, I find it best to ignore both extremes of comments i.e. the five star and the one star reviews and to focus on the middle ground.