Time to Review the Online Review System

You need to ship a queen-size mattress and box spring across the country. Where do you go?

You start with the usual suspects – UPS, FedEx, USPS. They offer a rate around $800.

You look for cheaper options. You find a service that’ll cost around $580. They seem legit. To be sure, you start searching out online reviews.

That’s when you start having your doubts.

If only online product reviews were as simple as thumbs or thumbs down. If only we had a Siskel and Ebert to tell us where we should shop.

The 80-20 principle applies to online product reviews. 80% of what you read is without merit while only 20% comes from credible reviewers. The problem comes in trying to decipher which group is which.

The shipping company we’re going with has their share of horror stories described by bewildered customers who just couldn’t believe their dinner set arrived with thousands of ants or their mattress had taken on the stench of mildew. Those are just two incidents among what most be thousands of daily deliveries. Still, they’re unsettling, and these reviews have caused us to think twice about our decision.

I’ve never gone online to post a review of any sort, neither positive nor negative. I suppose I would be more likely to write a review if I had a negative experience rather than a positive one. I think that’s true of most people. We never read about how someone’s McNuggets were evenly cooked to a golden crisp, but we’ll get a 500-word rant if a human hair is found with an order of French fries. Online reviews are most often about what’s wrong, not what’s right.

Still, that’s not the problem.

The problem is, as an online consumer, how do you know if an unknown, yet seemingly well-regarded shipping company is credible?

eBay might have the best model to judge customer satisfaction. After each transaction, eBay hounds consumers and vendors to post feedback. The result? Consumers can view the feedback history of any vendor or reviewer, and should their be an outlier, a little research will reveal whether the negative reviewer has a positive or negative history. If the reviewer is legit and it’s found several reviewers have panned a vendor, you know to shop elsewhere. In other words, reviewers are held just as accountable as the vendors they’re reviewing.

This could work across the Internet. Think about it: An online consumer profile we carry across the Internet, used for purchases at Amazon, J. Crew, Barnes & Noble or wherever. Each time we posted a review, it would become a part of our feedback history. If we wished to keep purchases private, that option would be there. This idea would mean diligent shoppers like myself who have little faith in online reviews could go a step further to see if positive or negative reviews were legitimate or just ramblings from a crazy person.

The current system ain’t working. Too many bloggers are paid to write glowing reviews while it’s nearly impossible to tell who you can trust among the myriad raves and rants. This would bring some viability to a broken, but well-intentioned system. And, hopefully, a little sleep for people like me, who’s about to drop $580 on a shipping company I don’t even know if I can trust.

One thought on “Time to Review the Online Review System

  1. Worst-case scenario, they let teenagers who can’t afford hotel rooms use it for quickies in the back of a moving truck for a few days before allowing homeless people to sleep on it…but in the end, I’m sure it’ll reach it’s final destination. Just Febreeze it and you’ll be fine.

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