Statistics say that if you're looking to purchase a product or service online, there's a better-than-90% chance that you'll be compelled to check reviews beforehand, particularly if it's a significant purchase. That's because reviews tend to be trustworthy assessments of products and services, and provided they aren't paid for or tampered with, can tell a story that stretches far beyond a product description. But are all reviews created equal?
Knowing how to "read" reviews as a whole is an important skill for getting the best value for your time, effort, and money. Online reviews have gotten considerably more complex as eCommerce has grown over the last two decades, moving from simple one-sentence blurbs to media-rich presentations with lengthy weigh-ins, photos, videos, and even podcasts centered around informing fellow consumers. With so much to sort through, how can the average consumer be sure they're "getting" the big picture? These three steps make it easy:
- Go beyond the first impression you see. Depending on the site you're shopping on, their review system may be set up to "float" a high-voted review to the top of the visibility pile, even if it's years old. The longer a review is around, the more chance it's had to rack up those votes, making it something of a self-fulfilling prophesy for that coveted top spot. Instead, check most recent reviews, which may have more accurate information about the current durability / stability / appearance / performance of your desired product. Don't trust "star" or aggregate ratings alone, either – they're a good overall indicator, but authentic, individual review stories are what should drive the majority of your buying decision.
- Don't immediately rule a product out on bad reviews. This is particularly true of products that only have a handful of reviews – good and bad reviews tend to attract more of the same, which means you might be seeing the subtle forces of consumer peer pressure at work, sparked by a single sour review. Additionally, customers tend to downvote a product review if they're frustrated by aspects completely out of the manufacturer's control, such as on-time delivery once the product is in the hands of the USPS or UPS.
- Keep a healthy dose of skepticism in terms of authenticity. Trust your gut with reviews – if they're light on details and heavy on unspecific praise, you may want to consult reviews with more "meat" to them. Also bear in mind that competition in some niche markets has gotten so fierce, rival companies are hiring fake reviewers to leave negative reviews for their competition. If there's a lone, aggressively negative review in a sea of otherwise positive reviews, it bears additional consideration – it might be a fake!
- Vary your search with shopping tools. While review-browsing used to be an exhaustive slog between different sites and search engines, aggregate product review sites are changing the game. Rather than getting so frustrated they end up buying something they later regret, smart shoppers use these sites to efficiently make buying decisions that fit their needs. That important negative experience on another site may be the nudge you need to decide on a different model, or a positive story may be just the assurance you need a product will work for your desired task. Having it all on one page gives you the power to make the most informed buying decisions possible, each and every time.
With so many choices available for nearly every product on the market, making a buying decision can feel overwhelming. Use reviews – and these four tips – to help navigate your way through the "marketing clutter" in search of product performance truth. The result will be time and money well spent, less expensive replacements, and a more pleasant eCommerce buying experience.