Don't be a fool when reading online product reviews

With more and more business moving to the Internet (not all of those empty storefronts are due to the economy), it is becoming more and more important to be a smart shopper.

So, you’re about to order that whole bean coffee, book, or external hard drive off Amazon, Newegg, or eBay and you see what you want has 4.5 out of 5 stars. Is this good?

Well, it depends. Does it have 5 ratings or 500? The lower the number of ratings, the more likely they were put there by the seller or someone else with an interest in selling the product. Why would someone other than the seller give a product a good review? Perhaps you manufacture a component used in the product and you’d like to sell more of them to the manufacturer. What better way to increase your own sales than to promote the product your component is used in?

Aside from planting favorable reviews, another dishonest tactic used by corporate sellers is to create a “review” site that compares their product with the competition, and of course their product comes out better (often way better) than the competition. Another thing to watch for is outgoing affiliate links. This means the site isn't purely informational, it's designed to generate sales and profits.

The remedy for this is to only use trusted consumer review sites like or ConsumerReports.comThis link lists 10 review sites you can trust. You can trust the reviews on major sites like Amazon as long as there are enough reviews to be meaningful. Speaking for myself, I don’t start trusting reviews until there are at least 20 or more. (However, on sites like Amazon, where reviewers are identified and a link to their other use is provided, it’s wise to check out some of the more positive reviewers. If they have reviewed a variety of unrelated products, that pegs them as most likely an honest critic.)

Here’s another tip, especially when there are relatively few reviews. In a 5-star system, I’ll trust the 3- and 4- star reviews more than the 5′s, 2′s, and 1′s. They are the ones who give the most honest assessment of a product. The 5′s may be pumped up with fake positive reviews. The 2′s and 1′s may be from competitors. I particularly don’t trust 1′s because in most cases they received a lemon and want to gripe about it. However, if they report false advertising or dishonest descriptions or descriptions that leave out unfortunate product features, keep those in mind.

As for those 1's, I think 10% of the 5's is about standard. While some of them got a lemon, some of them didn't do their product research, some have an incompatibility issue they blame on the product. Let's not dscount the idiot factor, either. Some people are too dumb to install a product correctly and a few abuse the product once they get it and blame the failure on the manufacturer or seller.

One of the best ways to get good reviews is to go onto forums and ask, “Has anyone here used the (product)? What do you think of it?” You’re far less likely to run into people with a stake in selling the product, though once again you’ll have to weed out the ones who got a lemon and want to gripe about it.

Any other suggestions?

Views: 98

Comment by Melvinotis on June 16, 2013 at 2:47pm

Have you seen the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt reviews? 2537 reviews. Lulz like crazy.

Comment by Sagacious Hawk on June 16, 2013 at 5:01pm

I looked at quite a few reviews when buying a new printer and the 1 star reviews were pretty helpful. One of the printers I was looking at had a significant number of 1's that were all saying that the paper feeder would jam constantly.

So if you see the same problem pop up in multiple reviews, then you're best off looking for a different product.

Comment by Unseen on June 16, 2013 at 8:16pm

Good point, SH. And as I said, almost any product with a lot of reviews is going to have at least 10% bad reviews. That's normal. When it bumps up to 15% or more, beware.

BTW, did I mention that before one takes a 1 or 5 star review too seriously, look to see their other reviews. If they have reviewed a variety of products in different categories than if this review is the only one they've ever done. I've reviewed a bicycle, several cameras, cat food, a coffee table book, and many other things in a variety of categories, so someone reading my reviews can feel very confident I'm not just some sort of shill.

Comment by Unseen on June 16, 2013 at 8:20pm

Melvinotis, I think we have some sort of Amazon tongue-in-cheek "meme" on our hands with the T-shirt reviews.

"The effect that this t-shirt has on women is pretty impressive. Unfortunately its natural healing powers reversed my vasectomy and I impregnated nine women in two weeks before I realized. They all had twin boys. Now I have 18 sons and spend most of my money on child support and condoms."


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