Online consumer product reviews have changed the way I shop. Rarely do I make a purchase without checking on the web to see what others have experienced themselves. I take into account the assessments of professionals, but I value the collective judgment of multiple consumers more.
The system works when many people take the time to offer their opinions at Amazon.com, other shopping sites, or pure review sites. More often than not, these reviews have prove to be highly accurate for me. When I ignore reviews that say products are cheap and break easily — I regret it. When the views are consistently good, I am almost always happy with the purchase myself.
Unfortunately, the system can break down when a few blowhards decide to hijack a review to send some sort of a message beyond a judgment of the product’s quality. Perhaps I’m just more attuned to it, but it seems to be happening more of late. Just this past weekend I came across a couple of examples while browsing books on Amazon.com
The first case is Michael Lewis’ new book The Big Short. I went to purchase it and noticed that it had just 2 1/2 stars. That’s pretty uncommon for one of his books, so I dove into the reviews to see what the problem was. I assumed it would be that it was hastily written or poorly sourced or something of that nature. But it turns out the reviewers who rated it poorly did so because the publisher is not offering a version for the Kindle. While I’m a huge fan of my own e-reader and was in fact hoping to pick up a Kindle version of the book, I can’t stomach giving a negative review of a book that the reviewer never even read just to make a point.
The second example was another book on Amazon.com, but this one was available for sale on the Kindle. Unfortunately, I can’t recall specifically which book it was, but the reviews took aim at its price. Many reviewers — who never read the book as far as the comments indicated — gave it one star and then ranted about how there was no reason for an electronic book to be priced at about $15. The reviews even went into detail — about how publishing companies don’t “get it” and are unjustified in charging “so much” for a book that is not even printed on paper.
Regardless of the merits of the arguments in either case, the outlet these individuals have chosen for their outrage does their fellow consumers a real disservice. It makes it that much harder to find good products or good content if reviewers do something other than review the actual merits of a product they have personally purchased or used.
In Amazon’s case, it would be interesting if they restricted reviews to just those consumers who actually purchased them. Alternatively, it would be useful to see the ratings segregated by those who purchased from the site versus those with an ax to grind (for better or for worse).
Obviously this does not work for pure review sites, but it would help to improve the quality of the crowdsourced reviews. Ultimately, we — as members of the crowd — have an obligation to others to provide accurate and helpful information rather than stepping up on a soapbox and talking about unrelated or only semi-related issues.