Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where do those online product reviews come from?

In doing a little research for an upcoming "Observations" column, I've done a "light-touch" review of an interesting all-in-one product from a well-known vendor. (I'll save my specific thunder for the actual piece, coming up in about a week.)

But a sidebar worth noting -- as part of my product evaluation, and following my hands-on work, I went out to several popular online vendors and read what their customers were saying. (I have learned it's best to do your own evaluations first, rather than be colored by the experience of others.)

Both vendors' customer review sections for this unnamed product summarized their customer reviews with less-than-perfect ratings between three and four stars. (I'll disclose the resellers' names -- they're Best Buy and Amazon.) In both cases, as the product in question is rather new and not necessarily a category leader, there were not a large number of customer reviews, 12 and 2 respectively. So with these low numbers of responses, one negative review really tends to skew the average (especially in the case of the two!). And that's what happened. BUT...in this case, the negative reviews were from the same customer! I noticed this from the wording (and misspellings), for example:

The bundled software was not user friendly, very slow and you must be a computer wiz to hook it to your wireless router- you should have knowledge of `bridging', `ad hocking', `setting up ip address' etc etc. With the help of my `computer wiz' teen son I finally able to run the printer. But it did not last long, in about two weeks printer refused to communicate with router or computer. Called tech support, which is a joke- I fall in sleep waiting and listening their music.

While the reviewer (identified by different names at the different sites) didn't go totally harsh on the star review with two out of five stars, the body text of the reviews is identical and INCLUDES A RECOMMENDATION FOR A COMPETITIVE PRODUCT at the end of the review. (They carry the same post date -- October 24 2007 -- but different post titles and different poster names.)

I've always assumed the customer reviews were specific to customers of the product and reseller in questions. Apparently not. This deserves some follow up.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
that's the beauty of ratings: EVERYBODY can give their opinion about your product, friends, foes, competitors - and yourself.
Based on my experience, if there is an obvious Spam that disses your product, you can call Amazon and ask for removal - in 50% they actually do it. For companies that are affected I can only recommend to work through a company like ours to track and monitor these things - and get them removed if need to. Imagine you just spend 20 million on the development and introduction of a new printer and your competitor writes five bad reviews in 10 minutes at no cost whatsoever. This can prevent your company from ever turning a profit on this product - because the reviews will be there FOREVER.
Welcome to the new world of user generated content.


Oliver Fritsch
+1 208-853-1993

Anonymous said...

There must be a reason for someone to go and write a review. I do enjoy writing negative reviews for a particular product I paid for once, now forced to use, but get no joy out of it. Every time they release an update, I check it, see all the bugs are still there and write a negative review. Most of positive ones are spin.

Unknown said...

Jim, many companies syndicate their user and professional reviews. Also, never trust a review unless you know the identity of the person. Amazon's real names is a good idea, but does not go far enough.