4 tips on how to use consumer reviews safely

February 25, 2011

An astounding 70% of US consumers consult reviews or consumer ratings before making purchases.  Whether you’re buying a new digital camera, finding a new dentist, or researching an online pharmacy, user reviews can be a powerful tool to make better choices about which products and services to buy and from whom. However, reviews also have pitfalls. Below are four tips to safely and effectively use online reviews.

  • Look beyond ratings to read individual reviews: Although a business, product or service may have hundreds of positive reviews, it unfortunately does not necessarily mean you will have the same positive experience. The criteria and standards of the other reviewers may differ significantly from your own. For this reason, it’s critical to read reviews carefully and understand the individual perspectives of the reviewers.
  • Inspect the motivations and qualifications of reviewers: When reading an individual review, it’s important to investigate the author. Have they written other reviews? Does the review sound like they are trying to “sell” you on the product, service or business? Is there other information about the reviewer (job, education, etc.)? Does the reviewer have authority on the site or otherwise online?  Have others agreed or disagreed with the reviewer? Do your best to answer as many of these questions as possible and try to weight the content of the review accordingly.
  • Check for conflicts of interest: In addition to inspecting the reviewer, it’s also important to inspect the website or service providing the reviews to ensure it does not have incentives to provide anything but objective information. For example, many sites claim to review online services (website hosting, online pharmacies etc.) but are in actuality advertising on behalf of those services (i.e., the website is being paid money by the services that are being “reviewed”). If conflicts of interest exist between the site providing the reviews and the businesses that provide the products or services being reviewed, more trustworthy sources should be sought (this information can often be found in the “about us” or “frequently asked questions” sections of a review website – if you cannot find the information it’s generally best to error on the side of caution and seek better sources).
  • Use reviews as a guide: While reviews can provide incredibly helpful information, they are best used as data points, not a single authoritative source. Your own research and good sense are, as always, your most valuable assets.

This post originally appeared on the National Cyber Security Alliance Blog.

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