My Online Opinion On Online Opinions

by Mike Holman

I’m on holiday this week, so I thought it would be oh so much fun to republish an ancient post (Sept 2008), which most readers haven’t seen before.  Enjoy!

Online opinions and reviews are everywhere.  If you are doing some online shopping, it’s almost impossible to go to a site offering merchandise that doesn’t allow people to write reviews on the products.  You can comment on blog posts, newspaper articles – the “people” definitely have a voice where they didn’t before the internet came about.

In theory, allowing the public to comment on your product description sounds like a big win for the consumer since they can gain from the experience of others who have already bought that particular product.  In reality, I’m not so sure.

Either you are with us or against us

A couple of years ago I wanted to buy a DVR – digital recording device.  As it turns out it was a complete waste of money, but that is another story altogether.  :)  Since I didn’t know much about DVRs, I did quite a bit of research online.  I looked at basic models, intermediate models and high end models and read as much as I could on places like epinions.

I figured that I could learn enough from the consumer reviews that they would help me determine what brand and model of DVR to buy.  The problem was that for every single brand and model, there were really negative reviews and really positive reviews and nothing in between.  These results were pretty useless for my purposes since they told me absolutely nothing about if the product was right for me or not.

The reality is that people who are motivated to sign up and leave a comment/review somewhere feel very strongly about the product and probably represent a small percentage of the owners of that product.  The end result of course is that most online opinions will be strongly for or against that particular product or service.  What I really want to know is how the other 95% of the owners feel.  Are most of them happy/unhappy (even if only slightly) with the product?  I’ll never know because very few of them will ever leave their opinion anywhere for me to read it.

Another example which I’ve seen first hand is on various posts about discount broker Questrade on this blog and others – some of the commenters (as is their right) have spent a large amount of time locating every single Questrade post on the internet and leaving lengthy negative and duplicate comments.  I have no problem with people doing this which is why I leave the comments as is, but the downside to this situation is that people who are looking for a discount brokerage might get swayed by all the negative comments, even thought they might not be reflective of the majority of customers.

Product/service suitability for requirements

Another issue I’ve found with online reviews is that sometimes people will complain because the product didn’t meet their requirements.  The problem is that my requirements for a product might not be the same as that person.

For example, I might want a new computer to do word processing and email.  I’m looking for something cheap that has enough power to do those basic tasks.  I don’t need a super-duper high powered computer that can run the latest video games.

If I read a computer review written by a disappointed gamer who isn’t happy with a computer because it doesn’t run his games properly, I might end up influenced by a review that isn’t relevant for my needs.
What do you think about  online opinions?  Do you base any buying decisions on them?  Have you ever reviewed a product online?

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mr. Cheap

Great post! I totally agree that the “other 95%” is missing and they’re the ones you really want to hear from.

2 Traciatim

I mostly just looks for the “Mine caught on fire” kind of posts, since most things I will know kind of what I’m looking for by what I want to do with it and match up the specs to my needs. If there isn’t something that stands out from the crowd, then I’ll just wait or buy something cheap that will get me through if I actually need something.

For instance, I’ve been shopping for an inter-changeable lens digital camera for a while, about 2 years, to replace my Olympus C5050Z that’s getting old now. So far all the DSLRs that are entry level [read: affordable] all have some serious drawbacks for how I use my camera, so I’ve been waiting about two years. Recently Panasonic announced their new G1 which is a Digital Interchangeable Lense Non-SLR; it works like a Digital Point and Shoot, but with all the manual controls and stuff. I’m pretty excited to see if Olympus launches theirs soon so I can choose a new camera based on the specs of each one, since I now see no reason not to buy one of these.

3 Emily in Ohio

For Mother’s Day this past year my husband bought me a coffee/cappucino maker from Walmart. And before opening the box, I ran to Amazon to check the reviews. The ration pf positive to negative was something like 1 to 20. The box was returned to Walmart. Had I opened it and used it, I’d have been a sad, sad girl.

I do a lot of my online shopping on Amazon, and after every purchase they email you to review the product. Most times I do, because I feel that Amazon saved us a bunch of heartache on a $100 coffeemaker.

4 Four Pillars

Traciatim – You have a lot of patience! Good luck with the camera search.

Emily – that’s not a bad strategy – my concern though is that what if it was a good coffee maker but only the few people who didn’t like it, posted reviews? Maybe the other 97% of the owners really liked it?

5 Unspender

I put a lot of weight on certain online communities like Chowhound. I visit the site on a regular basis and have found posters to be reliable referrers and reviewers of restaurants. When I went to Vancouver earlier this month, I planned ahead and asked West Coast Chowhounders for their advice on where to eat. The result was a much better food advice than I would have received from a travel guidebook.

6 Four Pillars

Unspender – excellent point. If you can find an established community that has opinions you can trust then that would be quite useful.

I will check out the Chowhounds.

7 MoneyGrubbingLawyer

I’ll review the online opinions, but discount them fairly heavily. The key things I look for are known defects or included/missing feautres when compared with competitors.

I do the same with advice from friends and family- I know some will praise even the most perfect of items, while others will find flaws in just about anything. Generally, any extreme response (“Don’t EVER buy X”) gets discounted by me fairly quickly.

8 Gates VP

Hey FP;

The value of online opinions does indeed vary. Amazon has actually had research papers written on their feedback system. (I actually watched a short preso on this at a Facebook conference :)

Maybe the other 97% of the owners really liked it?

Amazon provides e-mails asking people to provide a short review. The process is quite streamlined: click here, start typing. This helps to bring out the middle 80% of people who don’t typically write reviews.

Amazon provides an anonymous “was this useful” button that helps the 80% rate the existing comments. In some cases, someone else has already said it better. If a product gets 20 negative reviews and one positive review but that positive review has been flagged as useful 100 times, that’s some extra useful information.

Amazon provides links to the raters themselves. They have flags for “top 1000″ and “the” (as in “the” Bill Gates), that allow people more authority. You can also “favorite” certain reviewers.

Point is, a company like Amazon has recognized your concern and they’ve definitely put a lot of effort into rectifying the issue. The only thing really missing is that inherent “friend weighting” that we have. This is where one friend’s movie suggestion tends to be more valuable than an others. Of course, Amazon has some smart people, so they’re definitely working on this issue. There are also lots of people working in the social networking space looking to solve a similar problem.

One of the top apps in Facebook is called “Movies” by Flixster. They let you rate and review movies, but also you’re inherently connected to your friends in the process. They do “movie matching” so that you can identify which friends share similar tastes and highlight their ratings.

Either way, give it a few years and watch how the value of these on-line opinions really start to shift.

9 guinness416

Online review content is worth what you pay for it, I guess. Chowhound is indeed good, if a bit snotty and self-important at times (but aren’t we all). Emusic is good. I also trust the crowd over at Ask Metafilter, of which I’m a member, for recommendations on any number of things. And with bloggers I read regularly (whether in the fields of money, culture or sport) I’d certainly take note of any strong opinions on a product or service. They’ve built up my trust.

As for amazon and imdb, I only use them as an interface to get to the “professionals'” reviews that are linked there, to be honest.

10 Four Pillars

MGL – one thing I’ve found is that some people overvalue the fact that they own something and like it – ie “I have this great toaster I picked up last week and it is FABULOUS! – you simply must pick one up”. I’m sure it’s a good toaster, but maybe not quite as great as they make it out to be. To me a simple “yes, I like it” or “no, I don’t like it” is probably more useful.

Gates – great info – I still think the silent majority will stay silent however regardless of how easy you make it for them to speak.

Guinness – I’ll have to check out Ask Meta Filter. I too use imdb for reviews – more to just see what the movie is about.

11 Jerry Hung

You take everything with a grain of salt, online or not

lazy me usually goes for majority of reviews (+/-) and thank the Western society for 30-day return policies

by the way, http://www.Restaurantica.com is a good restaurant review website, where it also tries to weight the reviews & try to give an accurate representation

12 Patch

Here’s a review to counter all the negative ones for Questrade ;)

I’m one of those average satisfied with Questrade people. Signing up for an account wasn’t the easiest thing to do but it also wasn’t the sign up either. The time it takes funds to transfer over seems a touch long but again not a deal breaker.

However, FWIW, I’m one of those buy and hold people so I’m not dealing with Questrade on daily basis. Works fine for me and the price is right.

13 Four Pillars

Patch – that is my opinion exactly – Questrade does the job and they are cheap!

14 Wealth Manager

When starting any product research these days, I always start with ConsumerSearch (http://www.consumersearch.com).

This site which “reviews the reviewers” is a nice aggregate of what major review sources are saying and saves me the hassle of visiting a half dozen sites to get a feel for what the top products are in a given category.

Once I have a short list, or if I’ve started with a particular product in mind, I usually venture into one of a handful of forums to get a feel for what people are saying.

For this I usually head to RedFlagDeals.com or DigitalHome.ca which also have the benefit of discussing the products from a Canadian perspective – in particular, places to purchase and the prices paid.

15 Ken Deboy

Triciatim:
You might look into the Pentax K200D. The main reason I picked this one is that it works with just about every K-Series Pentax lens ever made (though some of the auto features won’t work). Also, the anti-shake feature is built into the camera body, not the lenses as on some other brands. It’s priced about the same as other brand (Nikon, Canon) entry level models. All the DSLR’s I looked at were fully adjustable, but had a point and shoot mode. I would hesitate to buy one made by a company that’s new to making SLR cameras (Sony, Panasonic, etc). Better to stick with one of the “big 4″ (Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, or Canon) IMO.

Cheers,
Ken

16 Sara

I always look for reviews for just about anything I buy, but I don’t always take them at face value. I mainly pay attention to reviews that give a lot of details about specific features that are good or bad. I’ve seen people rate a product as 1 star, but the comment is completely unrelated to the product (e.g., a complaint about the customer service or the shipping time), so I ignore those.

I also look at the ratio of positive to negative comments. I once bought my mom a gift at a brick-and-mortar store, and when I got home, I looked up the reviews on Amazon.com. There were 11 reviews for the product, 9 of which were 1 star, so I decided to return it and buy her something else.

17 HyderabadChick

I pay a lot of attention to reviews and wish there were more. I look for age/gender of poster/ country of origin/ level of savvy depending on what’s being reviewed (hotels, cities,

I pay especial attention to details about what the problem is. Also to the details about the customer service following the problems. I’m more likely to purchase items with reviews than those without.

I do separate shipping issues from the product to some degree – Negative shipping reviews could prompt me to buy from a different vendor. But customer service is absolutely a part of the product for me as a buyer.

18 Four Pillars

Hyder – good point about the shipping issues.

19 Brad Ferris

Great post Mike! Nice to have some humour in the first few posts of the year!

20 My University Money

Ouch… *this guy timidly raising hand to roof* I was definitely one of those guys in your last post. What you said makes a lot of sense. I am still just a little scared of online trading (as a young investor with a fairly small level of capital). As you point out, the relative popularity of Questrade should far outweigh a few bad experiences online.

21 Gordon

Like traditional media, the anti’s hog the spotlight. Usually people who are bitter about many things and personal experiences. Those who are happy with their live! experiences are the ones who you seldom hear from. Give me a couple more years and I’ll be 90. Life is so interesting I hope to see 100!
My take on Questrade is it’s a great inexpensive service; a couple of tweaks and it would give me all I could ask for. My experience with appliances is that one usually hopes for perfection in quality and usefullness. You have to make allowances for the profit motive behind everything that’s made and sold.

22 youngandthrifty

My University Money, I like Questrade. It’s cheap, decent to look at.. and cheap.

You do get what you pay for though, sometimes :)

I’m huge on reading reviews. before a make a big purchase I usually look online to see what other people say.

Leave a Comment

Current ye@r *

Previous post:

Next post: