Not too long ago we all went by word of mouth when it came to judging if a company was going to be any good or not. In a sense we still do, but nowadays the internet is the word of mouth we rely on. When we listen to a friend talk about their experience in a restaurant or at a store, we can mix their words with our previous experience of this person; do we like the same sort of food? Do we think their fashion sense is similar to ours? Do we, in essence, trust their judgment in this matter?
With internet reviews it is different, we don’t know who is reviewing the business, or if there is a hidden agenda, either in favor of or against the company. Even if there is no “agenda,” there is a natural negative bias in review writing. Those that had a particularly bad experience are more likely to review something that those that had an entirely pleasant experience; that is just human nature. Over time, however, this tends to balance itself out, as more and more people leave honest reviews.
This musing was brought about by my recent experience when I wanted to look for a local business. I did a Google map search and found one firm just a couple of miles away, so I looked at the reviews. There were interesting, to say the least. Most recently, they had nothing but 5-star reviews, although if you went back just a couple of months, the reports were all 1 or 2 stars. Looking closer, it was notable that all the reviewers giving the maximum mark had only ever done that one review. The less favorable comments were left by people who had a long list of reviews, and when you looked at them, they were a mixture of good and not so good.
Digging deeper into this, it seemed that all the negative comments were turned aside by the owner, who consistently said things like “you should have done this instead” or “that is not true.” In one comment, the owner said that they assumed the bad reviews were done by competitors!
Now, I’m not saying that the positive reviewers were lying, but it did make me question their authenticity. Not that negative review would always put me off. If I am not concerned about the things complained of, or if it seems worthwhile anyway, then I’d happily try something despite them. Indeed, a lot of negative comments are seemingly irrelevant and complain about things that are outside of the control of the company. I remember reading a review of a product that I was about to buy, that said it was hard to identify the top part of the product from the bottom, but if you put them in incorrectly, they were hard to remove. I bought the product anyway just thinking that I’d be careful, but when it arrived I noticed the word “upper” on one part, and “lower” on the other, and I never had any problem with working out which was which.
But in this case, the negative reviews all had a consistent theme, and the positives from new reviewers did not give me enough confidence to try this company. Another company got consistently 3 and 4-star reviews, which seemed to me to be much more realistic.
Nowadays, it seems, you not only have to read reviews but review them.