Online Shoppers: Why Online Reviews Can Save Your Day

By . Filed in Web 2.0

Do you shop online? If you do, online reviews are likely to be a source of reference that helps you make your decisions. In an online review, the writer shares their experiences with the product and/or service, notes the advantages, disadvantages and other unseen qualities that were not released by the manufacturer.

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Technically, it’s the online version for ‘word-of-mouth’ and the fact that there are so many reviews out there speaks volumes of its effectiveness.

At times, users share advice in their reviews on how to get the best deal out of the merchandise or service; what works well with the product or when the best time to cash in on an offered deal is. Other times, reviews bore ranting and complaints from disgruntled customers, giving you – the third person – a second chance to reconsider before releasing your dollars and cents into the wild. Everyone has an opinion and they are not afraid to share it, but what really counts is what you do with that opinion.

Types of reviews

Reviews are a dime a dozen on the Internet but technically they are all grouped under a few types:

1. the full blown essay

Reviews can come nestled in a paragraph with conveniently placed trigger words. These may be written by the manufacturer, or by someone engaged by the seller to write about the product. They are mainly positive about the product or service sold and can be used as a starter to help you pick the best choice for you, especially when you have hundreds of similar brands in the global market to choose from.

A similar source would be online reviews that are written in personal blogs. It’s not fair to assume that these will be neutral but you can be sure that if there is a name attached to the review, it is more likely to carry some level of honesty.

2. the review websites

There are also online review websites that are populated with reviews (left, right and centre), and just to name a few, we have:

Amazon.com and elance.com even lets you rate the service providers or people that use these portals to find their businesses.

3. forum and discussions

Lastly you can even find online reviews by running keywords through the search engine, e.g. "white bread vs whole meal". Depending on the popularity of your search, you could easily find a large number of discussions in online forums.

These are not as structured as the other two I previously introduced, but despite the back-and-forth, these may ultimately reveal the most information about what you are eyeing.

Telling between the genuine and the fake

Like everything else on the Internet, give it enough time and someone will turn it into something controversial. Despite the intentions of most reviewers, business organizations are quick to figure out that reviews from the man on the street can be turned into great marketing tools to improve their brand image, or smear their rivals’.

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It’s not the least bit ethical but the Internet makes it almost impossible to catch these rogue reviewers. And what’s to stop them? All there is to do is to get a fake username, pose as a customer then write a review on the product or service page, either giving it a five-star review or an angry, albeit fake, tongue lashing.

In fact, 5% of all online reviews are fake. Reviews can be bought for as low as $5.

Oh, they are real people writing these real reviews but they were never really there. In Sept 2011, TripAdvisor.com was actually investigated for spreading advertising falsehood, that is, they are being investigated for not doing enough to make sure that what their reviewers are posting on the online review website were (for) real.

But how do you tell if a review is real or not?

Part science, part gut feeling

You know that a knowledge is of value when even academicians are giving it due attention. Myle Ott of Cornell University has developed a computer algorithm to weed out reviews that are not genuine based on the words used. His research was so compelling that Google had requested for the 22-year old researcher’s resume.

Meanwhile Dr Kawamura of Edinburg University is of the opinion that "Yes" or "No" reviews are the best benchmarks for trustworthy reviews. He found that when allowed to give subjective opinions, reviewers tend to exaggerate their claims for attention on the website, and therefore, these reviews are ‘less credible‘.

For the rest of us, well…

For starters, when reading any review, take the time to consider the intention of the reviewer. Is the person too soft or too critical of the service? Was he fair in his assessment or is he just being a pain? Does he sound like he is ‘promoting’ the product rather than liking it because it works? When you pay attention, you can easily pick up the nuances that make up the truth or lies in a review. Dig.

The second criteria would be the credibility of the reviewer. A regular reviewer who is consistent in his stand (and his username) would hold more credibility compared to new users – or the ‘housewife’ whose home is coincidentally filled with every single appliance from the same manufacturer. There are also reviewers who would agree or disagree amongst themselves. At times, these online altercations may reveal underlying information that would prove useful, like whether or not the reviewer is actually working for the company he is vouching for. Again, dig.

The best policy

Despite the efficacy of online reviews, you should take every review you read with a pinch of salt. Opinions will vary and we all have different levels of tolerance and expectations. That’s not to say that you should avoid online reviews all together.

In fact, some of you are probably active reviewers on the Internet. You are free to vent, share, influence, grumble, justify, skewer or condemn any product, service or organisation you have come in contact with.

And we actually encourage you to do so as this can serve as an impetus for providers out there to pick up their act and stay competitive. However, do spare a thought of the effect of your review and choose your words wisely. And if you are looking forward to receiving pure, honest and thought-out reviews from others out there, do the same when you write your reviews.

Author:

Singyin is Hongkiat.com's staff editor: writer first, tech fan second. She's in a love-hate relationship with Tech. Until she has time to get on Twitter, you can find her on Facebook.

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