nicolas leroy

Product reviews: are they really useful?

January 01, 2007

Two recent articles made me think about product reviews written by consumers and published on the various shopping engines and merchant websites.

The first article – published on the Crowdstorm blog – confirmed the opinion I had on reviews: they are great for SEO as they bring some UGC (user-generated content) to shopping sites, but are not that useful to choose a product. I had a natural thinking that consumers are eager to post reviews when they are not happy or post too positive reviews to be really useful. The article from Crowdstorm explored the “ratings J Curve”, a pattern that has been recently observed and identified by Bazaar Blog:

[Crowdstorm] We’ve always said here at Crowdstorm HQ that rating products or doing reviews involving five stars is a waste of time. Now there is actual evidence coming out to support our hypothesis, starting with this post from the Bazaar Blog, entitled “the ratings J Curve”. What these guys are saying is that they find the average rating always ends up around 4.3 and that there are more 1’s than 2’s and far more 4’s and 5’s than the lower ratings. Their chart implies that people are more likely to share positive experiences and often go towards the 4 or the five at the end of the scale.

A few days later, I read another article on Reevoo blog, entitled “Real-world reviews…“, that convinced me that reviews could be taken to a higher level and could be of very good quality. This article was written as a trackback of a post on Signal vs Noise (ok, I hope you aren’t lost by all those references ;) ):

[Signal vs Noise] Most product reviews are based on trying something, not using something. That’s why many reviews are pretty thin or don’t get to the core essence of the product. The real deep knowledge of a product can only come from using it. Using it is what reveals greatness or failure on an intimate level. You don’t notice the quirks and shortcuts when you try something. Those revelations only come from real use. Eye candy shines during trial, but fades fast during use. Cool wears off quick, usefulness never does.

[Reevoo] For example, I found out that a certain fridge manufacturer ships their fridges with an egg-tray that only holds 5 eggs; that some washing machines, by default, beep when they’re finished – no good if you want to set them going overnight; that some satnav holders that don’t work in cars with curved windscreens; that some baby monitors may not work if you have a wireless network. Thousands of little details, specific to a certain person’s situation, and unlikely to be discovered by professional reviewers who receive the product (usually with the marketing attached, in case they’re short for words), give it the quick once over and then send it back.

Reevoo currently powers the review system for a lot of UK online merchants. Since December, 21th, they decided that “only people who have bought a product from one of [their] online retail partners will be able to add reviews to Reevoo”. That’s a smart move to ensure they will get reviews from people that uses rather than tries products.

I believe the initiative from Reevoo and the social aspects brought by Crowdstorm (“do you recommend this product?” feature, statistics about contributors…) are really nice improvements over the current review systems.