Online reviews are a quick and easy way to gauge public opinion to a company or its products, but how much can they really be trusted? In the digital age, the Internet is often the first port of call when seeking information prior to a purchase, and so online reviews play an extremely important role to consumers and manufacturers alike.
In this article we take a look at several of the pros and cons when it comes to using online reviews, and examine whether they are a fair and accurate indicator.
Many companies actively seek product reviewers, and offer incentives, either financial or – commonly – a free sample of the product. There is of course nothing at all underhand about this, but it is more likely to result in favourable opinions and reviews. Some sites even pay people to write positive (or indeed negative) reviews of a specific product in order to meet a company goal – be that to enhance their own company’s reputation or adversely affect a direct competitor.
This latter point is important – the Internet is a very powerful tool and carries a strong influence on its users: should a product receive a handful or disparaging reviews posted on its website or in a more general forum, this can be extremely detrimental. Conversely, products and companies can also receive a major boost by virtue of online “word of mouth”.
It is also perfectly possible for companies to filter or remove comments they have received prior to publication on their website – it’s highly unlikely, for example, that a very negative review of a product would appear on a manufacturer’s own site; glowing reviews or testimonials are however commonplace. It is also quite often the case that satisfied customers may prefer not to post opinions or reviews of their goods or a service received, whereas customers with a bad experience may wish to share their views publicly.
In order to receive a more informed opinion of a product or service, third party or specialist review websites are a good port of call. Major supermarket chains and sites which sell a wide variety of products, such as Amazon or Argos for example, offer a wide range of reviews on many of their products – often accompanied by a series of rankings for such factors as speed of delivery, the quality of the product itself and any aftercare or service received. This also helps consumers to weed out negative reviews based solely on a delayed or lost delivery – it’s not unusual to find highly negative reviews posted on some sites simply because the product turned up late: the purchaser may be delighted with the product itself but the review may not even describe this.
A sensible rule of thumb when analysing customer reviews is to look for a reasonably large body of opinions, discount the extreme ends of the comments (both positive and negative) and use the remainder as a guideline. It is also worth seeking out product reviews across a variety of sites (where possible) – one site may carry a number of bad reviews, while another could be overwhelmingly positive about the same thing. With a little research and a few extra clicks, the Internet can be an extremely valuable source of information.
A good example of using comparison or review sites is the UK energy market. The recent round of price hikes among the major suppliers has left consumers scrambling to find the best deal for their domestic energy: with a growing number of comparison sites available, customers can analyse public opinion on British Gas or read Ovo energy customer reviews before committing to a new supplier.