Our purchase decisions are heavily influenced by online reviews these days. Before buying a product/service we almost always check online to find out what others are saying. A few negative reviews often turn us off and we decide not to buy that product/service and look for alternate options. But in the online world, everything white is not milk and everything dark is NOT poison.
Below I am listing some tips and tricks which should be kept in mind, when you refer online reviews for your purchase decisions. These tips will aid you to conclude if you should take a review seriously or not.
1. It is important to check reviewer’s profile when you read a review. If you come across an extremely positive or extremely negative for a service (say a hotel booking) and the reviewer hardly has any reviews in his/her name other than this one, then you should be careful. The review could be work of a PR agency trying to promote a particular brand or demote the competition- this is more probable when reviewers name is very generic and can’t be verified against a real person (Check the reviewers name and check if he/she has any other online presence- twitter, linked in etc) It is true that people come and write review only when they experience something negative, but when identify of reviewer sounds fishy and he/she has only 1 review in his/her credit over years, then give less weightage to such reviews.
2. Was reviewer a real customer? Some websites allow only paid customers to write a review. Such sites are more credible because reviewer has paid for the product/service and is writing from his/her experience. Sites like flipkart put a flag ‘Certified Buyer’ next to reviews. Such reviews can be given higher weightage compared to someone who may not have really experienced the product/service (It is very much possible that I buy a book elsewhere but review on flipkart- I am not saying discount other reviews completely). While launching Samsung tablet, Samsugn ran an indiblogger campaign where users had to review the product, for a chance of winning it. Many bloggers wrote great reviews purely based on the specs, without even touching the product. Such reviews carry very low credibility. This is also the case with many premium brands- those who can review it can’t afford to buy it, while those who buy it don’t care to review it.
3. Is the review very generic or has specific points? If a review uses extreme sentences (“Our stay was hopeless, nothing was in order, all staff are cheats and idiots, this hotel is total waste, one should NEVER stay her” or “Hotel X is an amazing hotel with better than 5 star facilities, it was a lifetime experience staying here”), be careful. Though such extremely bad or extremely good experiences are possible, most of the normal experiences will be in between these 2 extremes. If a review has exact specifics on what worked and what didn’t work, then it is worth giving more weightage
4. Are the concerns applicable to you? When a reviewer has mentioned specific pain points, check if they are applicable to your situation. Example, a review might say ‘Hot water was not coming’. If you’re going in summer, this may not be a concern. If ‘lift was not working’, it could be a temporary problem, probably fixed by now (call and confirm). But if the concern is ‘to reach this hotel we need to take a 1 km walk uphill at 45 degree angle’, then this needs serious attention.
5. Is the reviewer responding to brand’s replies? Most review websites enable brands to respond to reviews written against them. At times these hotel chains respond to a review and try to explain their stand or offer to undo the damage. A reviewer is usually expected to respond to such replies and try to resolve the matter. But if the reviewer totally absconding after the review, its credibility could be low. (Of course sometimes the replies by brands is very generic like ‘we’re investigating this and get back to you’ and of no practical use, which are ignored by reviewers)
6. Is reviewer hiding his/her part of the mistakes? Service industry is a tricky business. While customers want the max value for their money, service providers need to make money out of each deal. At times mistakes happen from both sides- customer may turn up at a hotel with more guests than booked and demand that they be accommodated, or customer has typed a wrong telephone number and is complaining that service provider never reached him etc. Mistakes do happen from both sides, but reviewers often underplay their mistakes. While reading the review we should read it in neutral mindset and assess the fairness of the criticism
7. Who is the least of the evils? At times, all option you have will have negative reviews (For example, if you take the case of mobile operators, there’re negative reviews against Airtel, Aircel, Vodafone, BSNL and almost all other operators. But these companies still continue to operate and server millions of customers. There’s no one provider with 0% negative review. So we might have to take our chances and hope that we are not subjected to same torture. Similarly when it comes to hotel or bus services, one or two negative reviews will be there against all operators. So we’ve to take our chances. What we can do is list the things that went wrong with others, make some additional checks, take extra or specific confirmation/follow ups to ensure that same issue won’t happen with us. (Example, if you read a review that a laptop was stolen from the room, carrying a lock is more practical than booking at a different hotel and hoping that same won’t repeat.
8. Paid Review vs Voluntary review: Many brands pay for a positive review. Reviewers may or may not disclose it in the review. Extreme praise for the brand, stating that this is the best of the best and top class, without any real experience illustrations or proper detailing/comparison are possible candidates for paid reviews. A voluntary review often talks about both pros and cons and let the readers decide on final purchase decision.
9. Understanding reviewer persona: Assume a reviewer is a budget travel and has reviewed a 5 star hotel as very expensive place. You’re a rich guy and don’t mind the price- then the review is not applicable to you, because your needs, point of view and affordability is totally different from that of the reviewer. This is true particularly for hotels and holiday packages, as every individual’s needs and expectations differ. Do not arrive at a decision based on one off negative reviews.
10. How recent is the review? Internet throws up reviews decades old. Brands evolve over time and service experience might have improved. There is a possibility that past mistakes have been rectified or recent service is not as great as it was few years ago. Look for recent reviews. (Trip advisor doesn’t allow review if you’ve not been to a place recent enough)