Are Customer Reviews Trustworthy?

Often, it’s hard to differentiate between solicited remarks, and real, genuine product reviews.

Which is why, in this day and age, those reviews are becoming more and more problematic.

Ever since the early days of such websites as Amazon and even newer websites like Newegg, user reviews have been an important way to help differentiate between buying online and buying retail. and it has been one of the key components and helping to persuade consumers increasingly away from brick and mortar stores, and onto the world wide web.

But now, recognizing the importance of positive reviews in persuading customers to purchase products, companies have begun to take note.

Surveys of Amazon’s top 1,000 reviewers have revealed that in order for them to continue receiving products to review, they must often make decisions that would be found favorable in the eyes of not only those supplying them with their products, but also the customers. In that sense, what they review and how they review it are often highly influenced by the companies that send them their free products.

Other, more blatant offenses found wireless networking company Belkin paying customers 65 cents for positive reviews on Amazon.

And while good product reviews often have the ability to attract consumers towards products or services, bad reviews can just as easily turn them away.

For products on Amazon, turning a few customers away from a product may not seriously damage a company’s bottom line. But for doctors, lawyers, or other business on such sites as Yelp, a few negative reviews can seriously impact business.

Allen Sterne, a frequent yelp user and someone unfamiliar with the Austin, Texas area, recently blogged about how he used Yelp to track down reviews for a doctor he was planning on seeing. Much to his surprise, the doctor he was looking for was heavily panned in several reviews that he found on Yelp. Even in spite of the poor reviews, Allen decided to bite the bullet and see the doctor for himself.

Much to his surprise, his experience with the doctor was excellent. Afterwards, when he returned home, he realized that, under filtered reviews, were another 40 reviews praising the doctor’s services.

And these experiences probably aren’t uncommon. My experiences with Yelp and Amazon have often been hit or miss, resulting in some great purchases, and some regrettable restaurant visits.

Which begs the question, how much trust can we vest in customer reviews? For many, trustworthiness and credibility are important factors in purchasing decisions. But, with the proliferation of calculated, or poorly advertised reviews, it’s becoming more difficult to invest the same level of trust in customers reviews as maybe, in the infancy of the Internet, we once could have.

In this case, the tired, cliche phrase of, “don’t trust everything you read on the internet,” certainly still applies.