Putting consumer review sites to work for you

Have you considered ordering a product or service from a shop or site you’ve never used before but want reassurance you’ll be getting the quality you’re expecting?  A quick check on relevant customer review sites can save you hassle and money by making you aware of the frequent positives and negatives in using the merchant.

Some sites, like Amazon.com include an unbiased* customer review feature built right in.  However other sites either include no reviews or heavily curate them to show you only the comments from highly satisfied customers. 

*Beware however of small numbers of reviews as the product sellers often start things off by “seeding” favorable reviews by compensating reviewers either with free product or money. A good rule of thumb in Statistics is that 36 or more reviews can be considered more reliable as a few outliers (like a handful of fake reviews) won’t unduly influence the overall score.

If you want unbiased views, we recommend you hop onto sites like Trustpilot.  Trustpilot.com or Trustpilot.co.uk gather customer reviews, summarise ratings and make visible the entire comment, good, bad or ugly.  At a glance you can see the distribution of ratings from Excellent to Bad. 

First type trustpilot.com into your web browser.  Once on the site, you’ll find a text box where you can enter the website of the business you want to check on.

In this example, we are checking out Book Depository.  You can type the business name or the web address and the options will pop up in a menu.  Here’s the screen we’ll see:

The business has an average rating of 3.9/5 in the current period (usually 12 months).  Trustpilot shows you the raw score (3.9) as well as the star count (4 of 5 stars) and rating in a word (“Great”).  Before diving into the details, you should note if there are very few reviews in total.  In this case there are 8,316 – that’s a lot of reviews!  If there are only a handful (under 36), you should consider the ratings directional rather than definitive as people do tend to make the effort to give a rating when it’s either very high or very low, making the total susceptible to this bias if there are few ratings in total. 

The comments are shown below the summary chart and are in order of most recent first.

Next I do like to take a couple minutes to see what is driving any poor ratings, so I know if it’s something I should be concerned about.  By clicking on the corresponding bar (“Bad” in this case), only the comments scored as 1-star are shown, again in order of most recent first.  

It’s worth taking a few minutes to skim through these to see any themes as to what the company has been seen to do poorly on.  Sometimes you may find that it’s something essential to you – for example, the items are taking twice as long to arrive as promised when you’ll need your item for a specific occasion.  In this case, you may opt to look to another supplier for the gift.  Other times you’ll notice a theme that doesn’t pertain to you or you think might be sour grapes.  For example, people may blame the company if they didn’t realise they were going to be charged full price for a subscription after an initial welcome offer but you have understood that and find it clear and acceptable.  Or perhaps there seems to be an issue at a particular store branch that is different to the one where you will shop. 

Sometimes I find a particularly venomous comment and am curious about the poster.  You can see if this is their only review on Trustpilot or if they have reviewed other businesses.  If you tick on the poster’s name, it will bring on screen any other reviews they’ve written on Trustpilot.

In this case, the poster (“Manu”) has written reviews for 8 other companies besides this one.  By ticking on the words “9 reviews” they will all come up, and you can see in this case that he or she has written reviews ranging from 1 to 5 stars and everything in between and has been very specific what was good and what was not, so we can be reasonably sure this person is a fair reviewer.

Often I discount a scathing review if I see the reviewer never seems to be happy, even with businesses I love.   Just remember, as with all customer review features, they should be used to see broadly what can be expected; there will always be outliers of giddy fans and curmudgeons who will never be satisfied, so best to leave those to the side.  On the other hand, I take it as a sign of good faith if the company takes the time to respond to the negative review and attempts to sort the problem out, as per the above example. NB I have used Book Depository 3 times and have always been satisfied.

If the company doesn’t have a listing on Trustpilot or there aren’t sufficient reviews, it’s still worthwhile doing an Internet search for the site or product. For example, Search (Google) “consumer reviews of ___Company Name___”. Best to skip down past any paid search results (we’re looking for unbiased opinions after all…) and look for reliable sites like reviews.io, Consumer Reports, Which, Money Saving Expert or other trusted sites or publications.

Leaving your own review

You can also use the site to let others know about your experience.

Bring up the company you want to review, and you’ll find this at the top:

This takes you to a screen where you can rate and comment.  Remember, specific comments (good or bad) are most helpful.

The site will automatically populate the title of the review with your first words, but you can (and usually should) easily adjust the title to one you find most appropriate.

You’ll be asked to verify you are who you say (to prevent fraudulent reviews) usually by Google or Facebook.  Don’t worry, other readers won’t be able to access your accounts.  You will also be given the chance to edit your review (for example if you loved something and it ends up breaking after a short time or the company rectifies to your satisfaction an issue you wrote about).  You can also share and for example show the company on social media what you’ve written about them.  This is an excellent way to get resolution from them quickly!

Finally, you’ll have the option of selecting the box “Yes, update me” (see the yellow “X” alongside the blue box above). Unless you want your inbox filled with frivolous updates on reviews on this company or are hoping to get a response to your review from the company, then I’d avoid ticking this. Note that on Trustpilot, only the company you are reviewing can comment on your review, so no need to worry about random people or rude “trolls” responding to your entry.

Now that you’ve got the gist of searching for reviews, it should only take a couple minutes to check other consumers’ experience before hitting “Buy” yourself. It can be time well spent when you consider the risk in frustration, time and expense of having to chase after an unreliable seller when you haven’t done your pre-purchase check.

It’s good karma to leave reviews yourself, whether good or bad, to help prevent others from having to make a blind faith purchase decision.

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