How Much Do You Trust Online Consumer Reviews?

For example, Amazon or Yelp.

The dummy camera interview has triggered a fairly passionate discussion about the role and accuracy of online reviews.

I trust Amazon and Yelp reviews a lot. I use them all the time (bought more than 50 things from Amazon in the last year, a few dozen restaurants, etc.). The experience is almost always in line with the reviews I read. With Yelp, the only issue I have is that reviewers there weigh price / portion size more heavily than I do. That's not the results being rigged, it is simply American culture.

I get that there are services that try to manipulate these rankings but in my regular use of these sites, I find that the reviews are overwhelmingly free of tricks and are incredibly useful in making decisions.

For travel, Trip Advisor is excellent (you have to spend a bit of time reading a lot of reviews and filter out the obvious biased reviews, both good and bad).

Urbanspoon is excellent for restaurant reviews- very helpful when you're travelling and don't know any good restaurants in the area.

I use online reviews for almost everything I buy. Yes, you sometime find ringers out there, but thats why you sook up several reviews from several sources.

We don't yet have yelp in my area, but I have heard from friends with businesses in Yelp infested areas that they are having to pay high fees (3K/mo). The fees give you prompt customer service response to either push bad reviews off the first pages or get bogus reviews (eg. from competitors) removed. To them, they feel the service is like extortion??

Robert, I have read a number of those stories on the Internet (search: Yelp extortion). I have not seen results of that in my using of Yelp (top Yelp rated restaurants are consistently strong in their own rights) though perhaps restaurants rated poorly may be held down through Yelp tactics.

That said, there's one big structural difference between Yelp and Amazon. Amazon gets paid (by buyers) whenever anything listed is sold, so it has less motivation to favor one seller over another. It benefits the most when people buy through their platform so they have an incentive to ensure accurate reviews. On the other hand, Yelp is based solely on advertising of the businesses listed, so there's much more of a motivation for Yelp to manipulate listings for their advertisers.

Not mentioned yet, I like BBB for seeing a company's track record. Just being a member and for how long tells you they are a notch above the rest. They have a fair process in how they deal with complaints.

Angie's List is quite good for contractors, handymen and the like. I also find's reviews of healthcare providers are pretty accurate. Best Buy and some other electronics etailers' sites reviews are mixed. But then again, most of the etailer sites cater to the lowest common denominator so the reviewers often don't have enough experience or training to give accurate reviews of electronics.

More technical sites like CDW and newegg are fairly good for computer-related parts and equipment.

Sorry, Baxter but I've found BBB to be worse than useless. Among the most common criticisms of them (which I agree with) are that they are more interested in getting businesses to join and pay their membership fees than actually protecting the public. There are numerous documented complaints regarding BBB's strongarm tactics. And hey, when we remodeled our house we chose a contractor with an A+ BBB rating. We call him the "contractor from hell" since he or his subs not only half-assed most of the work, they violated code in some cases (electrical splices outside of boxes, a bathroom fan venting into the attic, etc.).

Definitely have to agree with you about the BBB. Not only is the BBB pointless but the reviews on there (good and bad) have to be the least accurate/most misleading that I've ever read.

Sorry to hear. did you make a complaint?

Yes, for all the good it did. BBB wanted to arbitrate the problem but they scheduled a date that was unsuitable and wanted to charge me for the privilege. I countered with a different date and the contractor said it was unsuitable. The BBB closed the case at that point, despite my protest.

I decided to just post bad reviews of the contractor everywhere I could, hence:

The NYT recently published a couple pieces on paid reviews and efforts to crack down on them. An attorney general investigation found that companies were often paying well-known reviewers for good reviews. Apparently you can be fined for this now.

The main problem I find with consumer reviews, at least when it comes to technology products, is that "consumers" tend to be easily wowed when they THINK something is high-tech and advanced. Just look at some of the glowing reviews products like Lorex, AVTECH, Coolcam et al get from people who buy them at Costco and DealExtreme...

BTW, saw an interesting article this morning, may be relevant here: New York A.G. Investigation Uncovers 19 Companies That Faked Positive Yelp Reviews

My 2 cents.

We have to review all sources of information used to make decisions. Performing due diligence in identifying the value, variety and sources of the information is important. What is the risk and outcome of a poor decision made from these reviews? A lousy meal, a poor quality product or financial losses. People that use the first reviews they read as gospel may be in for trouble. Others that think, process and compare the information they compiled have a better chance in making better decision. I have used Trip Advisor and CNet and specific forums extensively with good results. The bigger the sampling and the more content the better. The “this product is good” review response doesn’t cut it.

What we read may definitely be skewed. Be aware. Example… this thread poll open to all on the internet asks “ How Much Do You Trust Online Consumer Reviews” and gives results from the masses. Is it accurate? I suggest not and wouldn’t use this info for making decisions. I was able to clear my web history cache and voted many times therefore increasing the “Significantly” side of the vote. Easy to do for reviews.

This poll is a 'popcorn' poll. It's obviously not meant to be scientific.

That said, I've tightened the permissions to only allow 1 result per IP address. I also deleted your 9 submissions. Which goes to show that such polls clearly have fundamental flaws but if someone wants to stop the most common issues, they can with little effort.

While I must agree with John that this poll wasn't intended to be scientific or relied upon for consumer decision making, the fact that you even thought of trying to game the poll simultaneously makes me laugh and be annoyed for not having thought of it myself! :)

Funny that you'd put so much trust in yelp"

20% of Yelp Reviews are Shills.

I use online review data as one of many decision criteria, and I think it depends someone on the number of reviews, and the diversity of the reviews. I sort of assume that a lot of products/places will have at least 5 shill reviews, so the number of reviews posted, divided by 5 is how I start to weight things. If there are only a couple of reviews, and they are overwhelmingly positive or negative, I tend to ignore unless they have descriptive data. I've seen junk on Amazon with 4 1-star reviews, and in reading the reviews and looking at the "too good to be true" product, you get the feeling these are probably legit.

Funny, how radically distorted the 'study' has become.

Here is the original Harvard Business School study. As the report acknowledges, "Overall, roughly 16% of reviews are identied by Yelp as fake and are subsequently filtered." So the headline implies those reviews are still displayed and factored in to ratings but they are clearly not. As the report also acknowledges, "Filtered reviews are not published on Yelp's main listings, and they do not count towards calculating a business' average star-rating."

It's like judging a security operation by how many attempted incursions they face vs what percentage they successfully block.

Yes, Yelp filters the ones they know about. But it's clear the online reviews system is being gamed. I'm sure there are many reviews Yelp does NOT catch. Given that you saw the above link, I figured you also would have seen the discussion on HN.

Online reviews are heavily gamed, there is too much financial incentive. I would not make large purchase decisions primarily on these reviews. Sure, get a sandwich at a local joint, even if it's terrible you won't be out THAT much. But for large purchases, be cautious.

Certainly, people are going to try to game consumer review sites. The question is, given those attempts, how valuable are they to consumers.

For me, as a consumer, I find Yelp to be very useful.

(1) It provides a comprehensive list of new restaurants. If I want to find something new, I go to Yelp's Honolulu new business listings. I do not know anything else that comes close to that.

(2) It provides non-professional, non glamour images of the food, which is a huge help in deciding if I am going to like it.

(3) It provides color commentary allowing me to get a feel of the issues / strengths of the restaurant.

The number of stars is the least important factor on Yelp to me, not because of my concerns about gaming, but because Yelp user's tastes are different from mine - Yelp reviewers tends to penalize expensive restaurants or restaurants with smaller portions.

Yelp certainly has an interest in fighting back against fake reviews. In the long run, what concerns me is their conflict of interest in running advertisements. By their very nature, advertisements enable those being reviewed to subvert the process and can motivate Yelp sales people to hurt businesses refusing to advertise.

Here's one way to get positive reviews. I just got this from a car shop that I visited once for an oil change almost two years ago.

sometimes reviews are good for their comedic value... if you don't know what i mean search "three wolves shirt" on amazon and read some reviews... apart from the comedy their tends to be some really helpful information that is contributed by users...

In an interesting twist, Taiwan Fines Samsung For Astroturfing

The other interesting aspect to that is Taiwan's claim that Samsung was doing this against HTC, which is a Taiwanese company. Not to say that I trust Samsung, but no doubt the political / national connection played a role here.