by Caleb Cuzner (winner of the 2018 Lodlois Scholarship)
Online product reviews dominate today’s economy. Uber drivers are fired if their average review score falls below 4.6 stars (Cook 2015). Eighty-five percent of customers trust online reviews from strangers as much as they trust a personal recommendation from a friend (BrightLocal 2017). Why do businesses and customers treat online reviews so seriously? Before the internet age, businesses thrived without online reviews. Nowadays, hardly any successful business can be found that does not utilize online reviews. Both customers and businesses need online product reviews because the accessibility of the internet has created a culture where everyone expects to be informed about everything.
A survey by BrightLocal found that only twelve percent of online customers do not regularly read product reviews (BrightLocal 2014). Due to today’s information culture, prospective customers desire to know past customers’ experiences regarding how long products last, products’ value for the price, and which brands have higher quality products. For example, when building a computer, the author of this essay was about to buy a sleek, powerful power supply, but decided to read the reviews last minute. To his horror, he found that the aforementioned power supply was known to explode within the first year, taking the rest of the computer with it. He then read reviews for other power supplies and found a power supply that was more expensive, but had no record of explosion. He bought the more expensive power supply, and has found no issues to this day. The online product reviews exposed inherent costs outside of the listed price, such as the time and money spent repairing a computer with an exploded power supply.
With the popularity of the internet comes a risk of fraud like never before. Internet customers risk having their credit card information stolen or never getting the product they paid for. The mere presence of multiple reviews helps customers trust a company. Reviews from past customers assure prospective customers that they will be getting what they ask for with no foul play.
Businesses need online product reviews to market their products and improve public relations. Garnering positive reviews on outside websites (such as Google or Yelp) contribute towards a company being included in Google’s local 3-pack. When performing a Google search, Google’s local 3-pack lists the three companies closest to a customer’s location that have the highest review score (Link-Assistant 2016). Being listed on the 3-pack is a powerful and prestigious marketing tool that attracts many new customers. Companies can improve public relations by publicly responding to individual negative reviews. This practice shows customers that the company is interested in helping its customers have the best experience.
While online reviews help today’s customers and businesses thrive, these reviews can cause false expectations if inaccurate. For example, those with neutral feelings about a product often do not post a review unless incentivized. This practice results in most review scores being the positive and negative extremes. Consequently, most products have a review score that is less accurate than the public’s opinion. Also, some customers give products five-star reviews just to be nice, such as to protect an Uber driver’s job. Some customers may also review a product based on the product’s reputation instead of their actual opinion of the product. This phenomenon is especially evident when customers review a product without buying it or review their conversation with a salesman about the product. This issue can be solved by making sure only verified customers can leave a review. All these inaccuracies must be kept in mind and addressed if possible in order for businesses and customers to best reap the advantages of online product reviews.
It is difficult to fathom today’s internet culture without online product reviews. Online product reviews have become such an expected convenience that businesses have difficulty finding success without them. Reviews impact customer satisfaction, protect from fraud, and act as a marketing and public relations vehicle. While inaccurate biases should be taken into account, reviews still serve as a way for customers to collect information about products and for businesses to collect information about customers. Perhaps in the future, product reviews will be displayed around tangible products in convenience stores in order to replicate the conveniences the internet offers.
BrightLocal. 2017. “Local Consumer Review Survey.”Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.brightlocal.com/learn/local-consumer-review-survey/.
BrightLocal. 2014. “Local Consumer Review Survey 2014.”Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.brightlocal.com/learn/local-consumer-review-survey-2014/.
Cook, James. 2015. “Uber's internal charts show how its driver-rating system actually works.” Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/leaked-charts-show-how-ubers-driver-rating-system-works-2015-2.
Link-Assistant. 2016. “Big update in Google's local search results.” Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.link-assistant.com/news/google-local-3-pack-update.html.