How to Use Reviews of Products

I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of product reviews. I don’t write too many myself, but I love looking at what other people say about something before I buy it. If there’s something I need to buy, I’ll scour the Amazon reviews before I pick the thing that looks Just Right.

At least, that’s what I’ve done in the past. Over the last few months, however, my faith in those Amazon reviews has really been shaken. Right now, I’m at the point where I no longer firmly believe a product with a ton of great reviews must, by default, be good. Why not?

First of all, it’s clear to me that companies are gaming the system somewhat. More and more after I buy a thing through Amazon, I get a follow up email from the company begging me to review their product. (In so many words.) It’s disguised to be “helpful.” They just want to make sure I know how to properly use the microfiber dust cloth I bought. (Really? If I need directions on how to use a dust cloth, maybe I’m not qualified to write a review. Have you considered that?) But then they also say how important reviews are to them, and how they’re a small company and blah blah blah.

Fact. If you send out emails to everyone asking for reviews, you will inevitably get more reviews than otherwise. If you include “helpful tips” and a good reason why you need a review, you’ll get even more. Not because your product is any better than another, but just because you asked. At that point, Amazon pushes your product more than others. People see all the reviews and assume it’s superior, and you’re off and running, with no real need to even pay for extra reviews. (Though I do think that happens as well.)

It used to be fairly easy to identify the shills in Amazon reviews. Poorly written smear pieces or praises. It was easy to discount them and just focus on the ones that seemed to have merit. These days, it feels to me more and more like companies have caught on to that. The shills write better, if that makes sense. I also feel like companies pay people to write poor reviews of other products. The “complaints” that show up are just bizarre and non-sensical, and (more importantly) hard to prove.

Case in point? I’ve been looking at bluetooth headphones. I went to Amazon, and some products received glowing reviews. Others, not so much. But when I went to actual paid sources like PC Magazine (that review those products) the ones they rated highest are middle-of-the road on Amazon when it comes to reviews. Complaints are “quality control” and “doesn’t hold a charge.” Things that might theoretically get by a professional reviewer. Maybe. But which *might* show up after people have used a product for months.

Except I really don’t believe professional reviewers wouldn’t catch a lot of those things. I’m much more inclined to trust a professional review than I am to trust a random Amazon review. (Especially now that my overall trust of Amazon reviews is becoming shaken.)

So what are your thoughts? How are you using reviews these days? Do you still trust Amazon? Where do you go to decide what you want to buy? I love using reviews, but I want to make sure I use the right ones. Ones I can trust and believe in.


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