Internet Reviews: A Grain of Salt, or a Kilo?

Happy Monday everyone -- hope you all at least had "some" time off this past weekend to enjoy.

So I like to buy reasonably expensive jeans: 7 For All Mankind, Adriano, Rock and Republic, etc. Unfortunately, I am only 5'10'', and as some of you may know, these jeans come in a standardized length, with usually a 34'' inseam. That's much too long for me, and if I'm gonna spend $150 on a pair of jeans, I'm not going roll them up and look like a dunce, so I get them tailored every time.

There are a lot of really bad tailors out there, and since I've been moving around a lot recently, I've had to find a new tailor for jeans (among other things) every year or so. The tailor I'm currently using is absolutely the best I've ever worked with, and it was no surprise that she has absolutely stellar Yelp! and Google reviews...

From BI: "When it comes to swaying consumers, nothing beats word of mouth. That's because, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising when making a purchase decision, according to a new study. That number was up nearly 20 percent from 2007."

Link to article

The era of tons of free information about anything, especially consumer products and services, seems to have really empowered consumers and facilitated greater degrees of competition.

Personally, I use Yelp!, Google reviews, and Amazon reviews religiously before making any sort of purchasing decision. I want to make sure I'm getting the best service, or that I'm buying the best product on the market in my target price range. I'm also someone who almost never watches television, so the main advertising avenue that reaches me is by way of the internet, where advertising is more targeted and less "in your face" as it would be on television.

This leads me to reading internet reviews of products all the time, and when I make the decision to purchase something or use a particular service, I always wonder how in this day and age a company or product can survive after its reputation has been marred by negative online reviews (or even in the absence of reviews).

Think about it: when was the last time you bought a product on Amazon where upon scrolling to the bottom of the page, you see "No one has reviewed this product yet, be the first"? I can't think of such a time, nor can I think of purchasing a product that had below 4 of 5 stars (there could be exceptions...books about politics come to mind, for example, but that's more of a qualitative review anyhow). In reality, products with 3.5 stars might be totally fine -- hell, they might be better than 4-star products, but in many cases, a mediocre aggregated review rating is more than enough to convince me that I should be looking elsewhere.

This is true of many things -- if a movie has a weak MetaCritic score, I probably won't watch it, etc etc etc.

But there are problems with this approach, the glaring one being that people who have positive experiences with products and services are far less likely to voice their opinions than those who have negative experiences. Amazon and Yelp! have tried to counteract this phenomenon by creating some incentives for reviews, thereby increasing the flow of positive reviews instead of strictly negative ones, but I feel that the bias toward the negative in internet reviews is still a problem.

What do you guys think? How likely is it that an internet review affects your purchasing decision? How can businesses in particular who do not maintain a following on Yelp or Google survive in this era? Word of mouth is becoming a far less common method of transmitting information since most of us spend the majority of our waking hours on the net.

Comments (13)

Apr 16, 2012

+1
I know Amazon deletes negative views sometimes and if yelp does that too that would be a disservice to its fans.

Apr 16, 2012
go.with.the.flow:

+1
I know Amazon deletes negative views sometimes and if yelp does that too that would be a disservice to its fans.

I know it makes sense for a lot of Amazon's postings because people won't actually review the product. In the unlikely event that people have trouble with Amazon's shipping services or the item is damaged, they'll just write a 1-star review that has absolutely nothing to do with the product. Perhaps these reviews should be removed, and it's funny that it works in Amazon's favor, as they have become the de facto product review site despite that not even being their specialty. Funny how that works sometimes....

Apr 16, 2012

I definitely lean heavily on the online reviews on Amazon as well. What is funny, is this is not exactly what we've seen in our Company Database (where WSO members post Company Reviews, Interview Insights and Compensation Data by company) -- while there have been some largely negative reviews, the majority have been positive.

I feel like if you ask detailed enough questions it is usually pretty easy to see through why exactly that person wrote a bad review. Do they sound like a moron? - maybe their boss thought the same thing...if a person is able to give a balanced review, I feel like it has a much greater impact on the person looking to buy a product or learn about a company.

Apr 16, 2012

Well, I think that word of mouth is just the old expression for user reviews. I mean they are essentially the same thing. Look at something like angle's list which reviews local businesses or contractors in your area. Personally, I find Amazon reviews absolutely essential before I buy something. I'll even just do a google search to see if whatever product I'm looking at has favorable (or negative) reviews from random websites or communities. I also think people are slowly becoming less resistant to posting favorable reviews of places. I know especially when it comes to restaurants (I love open table, Urban Spoon and even yelp for restaurants) people seem to always want to talk up their favorite local nightlife or date spot. Obviously those are more subjective than others and foodies are a special group sometimes, but nonetheless it is something i've notices. It is funny, I didn't notice until you mentioned it how critical of a product I become when I see that it only has 3.5 or 4 out of five stars.

Apr 16, 2012
Addinator37:

Well, I think that word of mouth is just the old expression for user reviews. I mean they are essentially the same thing.

I think I disagree actually. That certainly might apply to "our" generation, since we're very comfortable using the internet for pretty much all of our information. In fact, I think user reviews are more powerful for most of us than the traditional "word of mouth" method -- I can think of several times when a friend has recommended something, I've researched it online, and despite respecting my friend's opinion, chose to not buy it based on user reviews.

For older generations, I think a face-to-face conversation about a product is a more powerful tool. But I think the two are pretty different; it's hard to aggregate word of mouth reviews, whereas user reviews give you the bigger picture, which is what this generation of info-mongers wants.

Addinator37:

It is funny, I didn't notice until you mentioned it how critical of a product I become when I see that it only has 3.5 or 4 out of five stars.

Someone agrees, so this must be fact! But seriously though, my first reaction when I see 3.5 stars is "oh my God what is wrong with this product?", which in most cases causes me to automatically skip to the next alternative without even reading further into the details. I bet CEOs look at their company's products on Amazon, see 3.5 stars, and groan in pain, knowing that sales plummet significantly for that fact alone.

Apr 16, 2012

I do not put too much trust in online reviews or comments anymore since a friend who has done a part-time job in a marketing/advertising firm (not gonna list the name, but I can assure you that it's a fairly big one) told me what her job was all about.

It basically involved going on websites or forums related to the clients products (a tech company producing cameras, projectors etc.) and writing reviews how awesome their products are. I do not know if it is also "fair" business practice to write negative reviews about competitors products, but next time you see a 5 star rating you might want to keep in mind that it might have been inflated.

Apr 17, 2012

You forget the most important part of the post, who is your tailor??

Apr 17, 2012
analyst-therapist:

You forget the most important part of the post, who is your tailor??

I'd be glad to recommend her to anyone located in Charlotte. Word of mouth recommendations are the strongest, you know. ;-)

KingEastwood:

I do not put too much trust in online reviews or comments anymore since a friend who has done a part-time job in a marketing/advertising firm (not gonna list the name, but I can assure you that it's a fairly big one) told me what her job was all about.

Yeah, I have always wondered about this...but those types of reviews can't represent a large chunk of reviews for most products, right? Like, if a product has 4 reviews and it's 5-star overall, I'm still skeptical; if it has 250 reviews and 4.5 overall, even if some of those are artificially inflating it, that effect probably isn't so great. I could be totally wrong, but it seems like marketing companies could spend their time more proactively instead of posting on forums and review sites...

Apr 17, 2012

It's also a question of how much you trust the source. If the wall street journal recommends a hot new product (lets say the new ipad) and Apple_lv3r on some random review site recommends it, I would think that even older generations would tend to rely on the WSJ. Though I think you may be correct in that older generations do tend to trust word of mouth simply because they are more conditioned towards it.

It is interesting how you bring up marketing companies posting on review sites. I remember a few years back when I was a member of some tech forums that Nvidia used to give out their newest graphic chips and motherboards to select members who would then post reviews which were favorable to whichever products they were looking to push. Obviously that is somewhat underhanded especially if the reviewers didn't disclose that they were given stuff. Granted, tech review sites normally get stuff way ahead of time just to review but these were actual members of the forums who would then go and post their own 'independent' reviews etc. I'm sure more of this goes on than I realize but I think it is interesting how in the internet age guerrilla marketing (guerrilla reviews?) is so influential and prominent, even more so than it was before.

Apr 17, 2012

First off, before I get snarky, you have a good point. I rely heavily on internet reviews when making large dollar online purchases, and I never, ever post any good experiences I've had with said product. Because people are more likely to post negative feedback, reviews do serve their purpose though.

Now onto my more typical snark: what the fuck are you buying $150 jeans? You must either be unemployed and spending your folks' money, or... Well I can't think of any other reason a man would spend that much money on a pair of jeans.

Seven for all mankind? My wife buys that shit. I didn't even know they made jeans for men.

Wait a second- I assumed you were a dude. If not, my apologies- chicks should absolutely drop money on nice jeans that make their ass look good.

That said, if you are a dude- what the fuck gives brah?

Apr 17, 2012
AVPGuerilla:

Now onto my more typical snark: what the fuck are you buying $150 jeans? You must either be unemployed and spending your folks' money, or... Well I can't think of any other reason a man would spend that much money on a pair of jeans.

Hahaha I am a dude, and not spending my folks' money -- have been working for a while in software development, but transitioning to IB in the next few weeks. I don't know man, they just fit and look better. If I get a pair of Levi's, they just look terrible, and since I wear jeans every day to work (for now... :P ), I figured I'd get ones that sat well on me. I don't wear nice jeans to get compliments, but it's not the worst side-effect either.

Apr 17, 2012

I look at the negative reviews and sometimes the issue on Amazon is shipping or something like that, I was looking for a replacement cell and this one had a slew of awful reviews, because people wanted to use it in areas with GSM and it was a Verizon CDMA phone

Apr 18, 2012
Comment