Can Online Reviews be Trusted?

by Dave on October 19, 2010

money for reviewsI’m not for sale. Why do so many companies assume that your opinion, your loyalty, your integrity itself, can be bought? Have we fallen so far into let’s make a deal mentality that everyone assumes that you are just waiting for a better offer? Or have these companies found a new way to burnish a tarnished online image?

Long story short

I purchased an item from a not-to-be named vendor online. I used Pricegrabber find a decent (but not the lowest) price – I also look for good customer service/satisfaction ratings. I placed my order.  A credit-card SNAFU occurred and I ended up in customer service hell. Their automated web “service” application just didn’t work.  I couldn’t find an option to email or call a real person to take care of it. I’m pretty damned good at ferreting information out of web sites, and I was totally frustrated.

Finally I give up

After several attempts during the next two weeks (and daily “nag” emails from their automated system), I was beyond mere annoyance – I couldn’t even cancel the order. Recognizing a no-win situation, I ordered the item from another vendor. I headed over to Pricegrabber and filled out a negative, but accurate, review of my experience. I figured others might bother to read the ratings, and maybe I could save someone from my fate. They required I enter an order number – seemed like an appropriate validation step. That’s when my real hell began.

Then it gets worse

Once the vendor knew of the review, they imitated a several months-long multimedia campaign of “persuasion” (if only they had spent this effort on their customer service). I received faxes, letters, emails, and yes, phone calls from their representative. At first it appeared they just wanted to understand – so I spent time explaining my experience and my frustration. Turns out they really didn’t care about me – what they really wanted was for me to remove my review. That’s when the bribery started – at first it was a little discount. With each communication the discount grew (and so did my irritation). Every time I was clear that my review stood and I had no interest in doing business with them again. But they didn’t slow down – yesterday they offered a 50% discount just as long as I was willing to “reconsider” my review.

I reach the end of my rope

I almost lost it on the phone.  I was tired of feeling like my integrity was on some sort of auction block – just waiting for the highest bidder. I was very clear that I wasn’t for sale and I did not what to hear from them again. I am sure I will hear from them again – they are very deeply mired in the culture of “don’t get it.” Then it struck me – is this a model they’ve been using to keep their ratings high?

What if Online Reviews are Rotten?

What if the whole review process slowly decaying? Is the new model to “astroturf” product reviews (I’m not naïve enough to believe that it doesn’t happen) to pump up the good numbers, and vote buying to bury the bad. I’ve always trusted the “aggregate” score, but is it real? Can any online reviews be trusted? What options to shopper have if they don’t trust reviews?

Photo credit: rychlepozicky

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