Thursday, December 18, 2014

About those product reviews on

I have some advice for you about the product reviews on AND on

After you read this, you may think, "Well, duh, Ray. That's just common sense." To which I respond, after looking at the reviews again, "Apparently not."

1. Never buy anything online without checking the reviews first.

If you find something online that you want to buy, first read the reviews available at and Even if you don't buy from these two places, they have the best collection of reviews on whatever it is that you want to buy.

And it doesn't matter if you're looking to buy a tech gadget, a stuffed animal, a book or jewelry. NEVER buy without checking the reviews first. It's as close as you can get to handling the thing in the store before putting it in your basket.

2. Ignore the canned, professional reviews. Go straight to the USER reviews., PCWorld and other sites are given products for FREE, by the sellers or the manufacturers, so they can try them out and write glowing reviews of them. And they DO write glowing reviews. Those reviews are based on the literature provided by the seller or manufacturer, a demo performed by the seller, and a few hours spent tinkering with the product before they move on to the next product review.

So these reviews are generally glowing reviews, praising the product in superlatives and highly recommending you spend your hard-earned money for something that they got for free. Skip them.

Go past the professional reviews, straight to the user reviews. and both have a core of serious users, who will give a wide variety of useful reviews based on actual experience with the product.

3. Read both the five-star reviews and the one-star reviews.

You need to know what people LIKE about the product, but sometimes it's more important to know what people DON'T LIKE about it. Also pay attention to the quantity of five- and four-star reviews versus the quantity of one- and two-star reviews. If more people DON'T LIKE the product than DO LIKE it, then you'd better be very careful about parting with your money.

4. Ignore the reviews that complain about purchasing or shipping problems. Pay CAREFUL attention to the ones that complain about product quality and customer service.

I'm not saying that sellers aren't going to rip you off. And I'm not saying that there aren't incompetent, lazy or dishonest shippers out there. But by and large, anyone selling online has a reputation to uphold, and the vast majority of them will do their best to make you happy. That's why the order-taking-and-shipping departments in so many businesses are now called "Customer fulfillment." If there's a significant number of negative comments made about the order fulfillment process, then yeah, pay attention to it.

But the reviews that matter to you the most are the reviews about the PRODUCT. How good is it, and what problems does it have? And if the user needed to get the seller or manufacturer (that is, Customer Service) involved to fix the problem, how well did that work? See, you're going to spend your money on something, and once the money and the product change hands, you (or the gift recipient) are going to be stuck with it for a long time, until you choose to throw it away. So it had better work. User reviews can reassure you that it will work, or they can warn you that it won't work. (I know, this sounds like common sense. Unfortunately, it isn't as common sense as you would imagine.)

5. Filter out the complaints that you can reasonably attribute to "stupid users."

A large percentage of complaints are due to people who didn't read the specs right, didn't read the instructions, or somehow don't understand. Have pity on these people. Don't think, "Good grief, what a moron," about them. But figure out quickly who they are and discard anything they say.

6. Learn to detect the fake five-star and one-star reviews.

It's okay to think "Good grief, what a moron," about everyone who falls into this category.

Many sellers get friends and other people to write glowing reviews of their products. These people have never read the book or used the item, and may have never actually seen the book or item. Many of them use prewritten text or stock phrases, provided by the seller. If you look at the reviewers' profiles, you will see that they have only written one review, for one product.

One great example of this type of review are the five-star reviews for "The Price of Silence," by William D. Cohan. Commenters have pounced on most of those reviews and exposed them as frauds.

Not surprisingly, some people get paid to write positive reviews. I guess that's one way to use your English degree to make money. These shills are more difficult to detect, but you will notice that their reviews are filled with useless, overly general verbiage.

Some sellers are also dogged by psychopaths who write negative reviews about anything they have to sell. Fortunately, they're not very subtle and you can spot them instantly.

7. Snort derisively at the five-star reviews from anyone who has had the product for less than three months.

THIS is the one that will get you. So many five-star reviews read something like this (best read in an airheaded, Valley Girl voice) : "Well, I don't know what all those bad reviews are about. Maybe some people just get lemons. I've had my product for about three weeks now, and it works great! I love it! So does my significant other! It's never given us any problem."

I want to phone these people six months later and see what they have to say about it. You never hear from them once the thing goes south. ANY five-star review less than three months old is not a reliable indicator of actual product performance.

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