Ecommerce, Internet

User reviews demystified

Last year (2012), EEDAR (a firm that deals with “Video Game Research and Consulting”) and SMU (Southern Methodist University) of Texas got together and conducted a study into what effect reviews have on driving sale. They gathered a group of people and split them into 3 groups. One group was shown very positive reviews of a game, another negative while the third was shown no reviews whatsoever. They were then shown the game itself and asked to rate it. Interestingly enough, the first group rated it as 85/100, the second rated it at 71/100 while the third gave it 79/100. Reviews had done their job!

In today’s world, even a single review can mean the difference between profit and loss for businesses. A colleague’s experience could serve as an example here. He bought an iPhone online from a supplier who claimed that it was an unlocked phone. However, this colleague was in for a shock when he discovered that it was not an unlocked phone but a cracked/hacked phone and Apple had locked it. This called for a return and refund request which wasn’t really attended to at first. What did my colleague do? He wrote a review and voila! He got a refund, just like that. Having read the review, the supplier immediately called him up and offered a ‘no-questions-asked’ refund in exchange for having the review removed from the site. Powerful, isn’t it? However, as effective as these reviews are, they don’t come without their set of complications. The challenges they pose and/or face are summed up as under:

Problems With Reviews Today

Short Lived Info

Amidst all the unboxing, grand openings and first-look reviews, the bigger picture i.e. the long term performance and/or the credibility of the product or service is completely ignored. Yes, a new phone maybe the most talked about thing in the world at the launch, but does it hang often? Is that e-com site still as efficient with its deliveries as before? Now these are things that can affect your decisions and unfortunately, this is the part of information that isn’t that easily available.

The Problem of Abundance & Irrelevance

There may be a 100 or even 1000 websites that provide reviews for the same thing but which one to trust is quite the issue today. Adding on to a reader’s dilemma are the useless reviews that rate the products without ever mentioning why a certain product is 5-star and why another is just a 1-star. Review, review everywhere…quite literally!

Share Thy Grief

Happy customers may make happy businesses but do they also make happy reviews? “Not often”, claim industry experts. Apparently, happy customers are complacent; the unhappy ones however, are verbal. This means that people tend to post a review only when something goes wrong; appreciation isn’t the general tone of the review world. In fact, reviews are now being seen as a way of venting (and even blackmailing!).

Rigged Vs Rival Reviews

Rigged reviews are those which a company posts for itself just to appear efficient in front of people. Rival reviews, on the other hand, are the ones which are posted by competitors to bring a company’s reputation down. Which one is a lesser evil? Only time tells!


Owing to the above problems, deciphering and understanding reviews and using them to your advantage may seem like a challenge. It isn’t actually so. Some solutions for the aforementioned challenges are mentioned thus.

  • Focus on your needs. If there is too much info everywhere and you can’t decide where to look, just jot down the questions that you have regarding the product or service and then streamline your search to answer these specific questions. If, on the other hand, you come across ratings only then do the only thing that can be done – ignore and move on to better reviews!
  • You want to differentiate between a real review and a non-real one? Here’s the key. If a reviewer lists only the negative points (and is also getting a little emotional in reviewing approach) then you have a venting review at your hands. Stellar reviews, almost unreasonably praising the offering, posted within days of each other are generally rigged while terrible reviews, posted within days of each other, are often examples of rival reviews.
  • Awareness is a potent device. If you aren’t getting the info that you are looking for then visit relevant forums and ask your questions. If an offering’s reviews are confusing you then visit multiple sites to make a more aware decisions. Also, don’t shy away from questioning the reviewers and their reviews; the genuine ones do reply.
  • Always review the reviews. A 4/5 rating based on 30 (genuine) reviews is any day better than a 4.5/5 rating based on 3 reviews. If the reviews are spread across a large time period then that only confirms that the offering in question has maintained its standards over a period of time.
  • And finally, while a rating based decision can be easy, it can be really wrong too. Opt for reviews that explain the qualities and/or drawbacks rather than the ones that just rate things without explaining WHY.

Gauging reviews and making decisions based on them can be easy and difficult at the same time. The trick lies in understanding what to believe and what to ignore. A look at the above pointers can tell you how to navigate the murky waters of “reviewland” efficiently and without much inconvenience. What do you say?

This article has been compiled by Sanjay Virmani. He is the Co- founder of Banyan Tree Infomedia LLP which has one of the largest network of portals.  The above write up is a synthesis of his experience in managing varied ecommerce portals such as

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