According to a survey from Opinion Research Corporation, about 84% of readers said that online customer reviews influenced their decision on whether or not to purchase a product or service.
However, most of these reviews are posted by a “vocal minority” who regularly leaves feedback. This minority group therefore wields an enormous influence in swaying consumer opinions one way or the other.
If you are one of those who regularly participates in forums and gives your opinion about products, how can you ensure that your reviews or opinions are fair to the product and useful to other readers?
Here are a few pointers:
- Be balanced and list both the good points and the bad points. No product is perfect, and each may be best at one thing and not another. If a reader does not care about the bad/weak points, it qualifies as a good product.
- Another way is to identify who you believe will gain most from using the product. A professional will demand more quality and features from a product than a casual user will. So, what may not suit a professional may be the perfect choice for the casual user.
- Rate the product based on who will be the end user. If a product will be used by professionals, then rate it against other products targeted to professionals. If a product will be used by casual users, then rate it against other products targeted to the casual users. Do not make the mistake of rating a product targeted to casual users against other products targeted to professionals.
The last point is probably the most prevalent mistake made by reviewers and as a result many people end up either bypassing a product that is right for them or buying into a product that is way beyond their needs and more expensive.
Now for an amusing anecdote: many parents religiously read the “business magazines” to decide the best universities to send their children to. What is amusing is that few ask what criteria are used to measure “best” in the surveys.
Hold on to your seats:
- One prestigious survey simply asks the professors to rank each other’s universities.
- Another survey, also very prestigious, asks the students.
- A third survey actually checks back with a number of students 3 years after they graduate to see how much money they are now earning.
As you can see, there is no one right or wrong answer. Asking the professors may be the right way to go about it since the professors must know the universities’ reputations, we hope. Asking students may also not be a bad idea since where the brightest students want to attend is where the best universities are. Following students after 3 years to see where their degree has taken them is very attractive because it tells you what the market thinks about the universities the students graduate from — as well as about the students that attend them.
If you rely on online reviews and ratings to make purchase, career or even life decisions, it is encumbent on you to be a little wise about it. Just blindly accepting a ranking or a rating without really knowing what criteria were used to arrive at the ranking or rating may not help you make the decision that is best for you. It is also wise to always get a second opinion before finalizing your decision.
If you are on a quest to find the “best” car, digital camera, university, dog food — you may drive yourself crazy doing so. As we pointed out, there is rarely a “best” product. It all depends on the use, on the target audience, on price, etc. etc. That is why there are so many models at different prices! And, as the university ranking anecdote above shows, each reviewer may be looking at the same product from a different perspective and using different criteria to evaluate it. Your definition of “best” will more often than not be at odds with the reviewer’s, your spouse’s, your kids’ or even your dog’s. If you are honest with yourself, what you really want to find is the product that is best for you — for the use you want to put it through, in the budget you are comfortable spending, and whether you personally like it or not (that is why we often recommend readers to go and handle a DSLR before deciding).
If a reviewer has followed our pointers above, then you can be reasonably secure in the knowledge that you now have the facts you need to make your decision based on what is important to you, and not necessarily to the reviewer (who has gone through hundreds of similar products and is probably now — yawn! — blasé about yet another one).
Does this mean that you should ignore the reviewer’s final recommendation? Reviewers have a tough job: on one hand, they need to be “objective” but, as anyone who has tried to do a review will understand right away, objective facts all too often do not tell the whole — or true — story about a product.
For example, just because a product has a certain feature does not necessarily mean that the feature is usable in a practical way. You may have to go through hoops and contortions to use it, so much so that you decide to never use it. Yet if you had based your decision to purchase that product instead of another one because the former had this feature, you may have made a wrong choice.
Or maybe the feature is practically usable but the quality is awful. This is the case for many digicams that boast the availability of very high ISOs for low light photography, but the result is almost always disappointing.
Or, the product may even score high in a certain test under carefully monitored lab conditions, but it will never be used in such an environment. For example, a digital camera scores high in image sharpness when placed on a tripod, is carefully focused (giving the camera time to lock focus, and even resorting to manual focus if necessary) and the subject is illuminated by bright studio lights. In real field use, most people may not use a tripod, the autofocus may take too long to lock focus and it has a small aperture so that it is forced to often use a high ISO to obtain correct exposure. In other words, what the lab test results tell us is simply that, under the ideal lab conditions, this camera is pretty good; and, in all other field conditions, it sucks.
Faced with this quandary, a reviewer, if she or he wants to be honest with readers, has no choice but to offer a “subjective” opinion at the end of the review. So, even if all the “objective” results point to a great product, yet the reviewer is not so hot about the product, it may be in your best interest to pay careful attention, especially if you have a good opinion of the reviewer. Get a second opinion and read whether other reviewers are saying the same thing. Read reviews/opinions posted by other readers who own the product. Try it out in the store if you can.
If you interested in sharing your opinions about the digital cameras featured on these pages, you can now easily do so by simply registering at Google Friend Connect. [See the links in our sidebar to the right. Join once and you can add comments and post ratings.] Use the pointers we list above when writing your reviews so other readers can get as fair and helpful a review/comment/rating as possible. They will thank you for it!