We’ve been aware of several practices that can lead to misleading user reviews, but there’s one less obvious one that you should know about before you start your holiday shopping season.
The holiday season is no longer just about buying gifts for others; many of us use the season’s deals and discounts to buy new tools, gear, and home items for ourselves too.
The big thing to be aware of are called Syndicated Reviews.
Let’s say there’s a Retailer and a Brand. Retailer participates in aggregated reviews, and Brand has some user reviews on their website.
It’s November, and a new Special Buy Deal of the Day is being promoted on Retailer’s front page. It’s on sale, TODAY ONLY!! Let’s see what the reviews say. 100 reviews and 5 stars? WOW, it must be a GREAT product!
But if you look at the reviews, they are all from the Brand’s website. Each and every one of then. At least one of them – I skimmed around – mentioned receiving the product for free. Most reviews are vague, some mention completely different products.
I believe I saw the same model on sale in another retailer’s deal of the day last week.
Conclusion: This is a “special buy” model that was put together for the holiday season to sell at “deal of the day” and “special buy” pricing.
Does that it’s less powerful than other products in its product family? Built to lower quality? Are the accessories different? What about things like the power cord?
All those positive reviews for the product, are they even for anything like this product?
When talking about tools, say cordless power tools, things go from confusing to very confusing, and potentially misleading, to very misleading.
Let’s say there’s a new 5-tool cordless combo kit. Reviews might be aggregated from bare tools, standalone cordless kits, or other combo kits.
I’ve seen so many different inaccuracies. Reviews for a premium version of a saw appear for a kit that includes the cheaper “combo bundle” version. Reviews for a special buy combo kit include reviews from the standalone kit that is bundled with a higher capacity battery pack.
What can be said about an aggregated review that mentions “great runtime,” when the reviewed kit came with a higher capacity battery pack than the one that’s on sale and pulling in the review?
Speaking as a consumer, and I suppose an objective observer, this is a nasty and misleading practice. What’s the purpose?
I can understand that it can be potentially helpful to pull in relevant reviews, but the aggregation engine isn’t just pulling in relevant reviews, it’s pulling in related and less exact reviews too. There are inaccuracies and the potential for customers to be mislead.
It has been nearly 2 YEARS since I brought this up with contacts at one retailer that’s doing it, and nothing has changed.
When I say that there’s the potential for customers to be mislead, it works both ways, in convincing them for or against a product.
There was one time when the following was said about a new Milwaukee sander:
Good tool but trouble
Poor hook & loop pad
poor poor quality
Soft start mess
Filter made with low quality plastic
But the new sander hadn’t even started shipping yet!
The website was pulling in reviews from previous reviews for the older product at the same retailer, the Canadian retailer’s site, and the manufacturer’s site.
When I asked about it, I was basically told that the reviews are collected from a number of places in several ways. Basically, it’s described to be an automatic process.
To be fair, they do mention where the review came from, but will the average customer question that at least some of the aggregated reviews might be talking about slightly different products, and in some cases completely different ones?
The uncertainties make this a messy practice, and I just don’t like it.