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Online Reviews Can be Good Up To A Point

Posted by: David Kiley on November 12, 2007

What online customer reviews are we to believe? According to the 2007 “Social Shopper Study” conducted by PowerReviews and E-tail Group, consumers are increasingly turning to online customer reviews to help them sort out purchases.

When consumers have concerns about the quality of the products they are buying, they are more likely to pay attention to recommendations by other shoppers like themselves, says Jay Shaffer, vp, marketing at PowerReviews.

One of the conclusions, though, is that consumers want to see more forums for these reviews on the e-commerce sites of the companies themselves. Really? Toshiba, Dell, HP and Eastern Mountain Sports are among those that give customers a forum to express good and bad opinions on their sites.

Not me. I look for online opinions, for sure. But I like to think I have gotten good at detecting honest reviews from those generated by shadowy firms and miscreant employees who stuff such sites with positive opinions. It happens, especially in the universe of consumer electronics and toys.

The last place I would look for an honest consumer forum for thoughts, ideas and reviews about a product or service I am shopping…is the brand’s site.

When a movie studio publishes an ad that says “Bright, Bouncy and the best Film of the Year! I laughed until my sides ached.”—Cyril Holloway, (fictional), and there is no review cite from People, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and no “thumbs up,” I know the studio is holding back.

This why social networking is so cool. if I was shopping for a new cell-phone, vacuum, PDA or laptop, the first place I would check, besides Consumer Reports and, is my Facebook network.

Look at reviews for an HP laptop on HP’s website? Why would I do that?

Reader Comments

Jay Shaffer

November 14, 2007 12:13 PM

Hey David -
Thanks for the great mention here. If I may, I would like to clarify one minor point in that our study concluded that online shoppers wanted to have more opportunities to consult reviews in their overall online shopping experience, but did not specifically cover nor address the consumer's desire to see reviews on brand manufacturer vs. branded retailer sites.

And more to your point, I couldn't agree with you more about the need for "honest reviews." And that is why we encourage all our clients through our Best Practices to send post-transactional follow-up emails to the product buyers themselves in order to ensure reviews from real product users. In fact, 75% of all reviews on most our clients websites are from Verified Purchaser - and in the case of REI, for example, that has a member based organization, they denote that in the review as well!

Jay Shaffer
VP Marketing


November 14, 2007 1:50 PM

Hey David,

I totally understand your concerns about bias. That's why at PowerReviews, we work with retailers to mark reviews that are by people who bought the product from that retailer (we call them Verified Purchasers and mark them with a graphical badge and everything). Turns out that even on non-retailer sites you still can't verify that they own and use the product. Many reviewers just buy the product, test it and return it to the store which ends up lacking in real life usability. We also encourage our retailers to mark reviews by staff as Staff Reviewers. We're not against staff reviews as long as they self-identify.

-Jim, GM, (part of PowerReviews)

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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