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?

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