Are Customer Reviews Worth Reading?

We all know that there are as many opinions as there are people, or so it seems.   It’s too long.    No, it’s too short.    It’s fantastic.    No, it’s awful.     How do you know when to believe the reviews that other buyers have left?

FeedbackI help choose products for the Sister House Boutique, so I’ve had a lot of practice over the last year in trying to decide just how important the reviews are – when to believe them and when to disregard them.    While there is no one simple rule about believability, I do think we can decide on some important guidelines.

First off, the more reviews on an item, the better the information.   If two reviewers say that it’s a 5-star skirt, I take what they say as extra information, but I don’t take it as an absolute.   Two reviews simply isn’t enough to know.    If, on the other hand, 64 buyers rate it a 4-1/2 star item, I feel confident that most buyers will feel similar.    Sixty-four is enough to have input from a good cross-section of people with varying tastes and standards.

I try to read through most of the reviews to see if there are consistent themes to the praise or complaints.    If one person says it’s too tight and two others say it’s on the big side, I tend to disregard the size issue and figure it’s probably fairly true-to-size.    On the other hand, if half of the buyers say it runs small and there aren’t others saying the opposite, then I suspect that maybe it does indeed run small.   It doesn’t mean we might not put it in the Boutique, but we’ll warn you that it runs small.

OptionsThere are many themes that can turn up in customer reviews that are worth paying attention to, but only if a number of people say the same thing.    Last week I saw a fantastically stylish coat that I thought would be a great addition to the Boutique, but as I read through the comments I found that over and over buyers spoke of buttons that fell off.   Yes, they all agreed that the coat had great style, and several said that because of that it was worth the button problem, but I didn’t feel that Sister House shoppers wanted to be bothered with buttons that flew off at inopportune times, so we didn’t put it in the shop.

Besides sizing or unreliable buttons, there are lots of other things reviews can tell you, for example about the fabric itself.    On many occasions I’ve seen items that looked great but then discovered on reading the reviews that there was a common complaint about the fabric being cheap or too thin.    Or there was the shoe brand (coming from the Far East) that buyer after buyer said arrived smelling awful, and that even days of airing didn’t help.   Obviously those shoes didn’t go into the Boutique, but if I hadn’t read through the comments, I wouldn’t have known about the problem.

The star ratings themselves can sometimes be misleading.   I generally don’t stop to look at something that shows one or two stars, but the other day I saw an item that I thought had real promise.   The only problem was that there was a low star rating.   There had only been one review, so I scrolled down to read it and discovered to my surprise that the buyer was very happy with the article and planned to wear it a lot.   Why she had given it only 2 stars I have no idea.   Perhaps it was only a mistake, or maybe she’s a very strict grader, but it was totally not representative of her opinion.

UpsetI strongly recommend taking the time to at least skim through the reviews before buying an item online.  In fact, having the ability to see what other buyers think about an item is a big advantage to shopping online.   There can be really helpful information, but only if you remember not to take any single one too seriously.    One or two complaints among many satisfieds is not a source for concern as people can be totally unreasonable in the face of frustration or disappointment.   I once read a long tirade against Nordstrom’s that would have had one believe they were some fly-by-night mom-and-pop in deepest rural China.

Read, but also take with a grain of salt.   You might discover that there are lots of complaints about something that you actually consider a positive, for example the shoulders are too wide or the sleeves too long.    For Sister House buyers, these are probably good things.    I myself have a large head, so if buyers say that a hat runs big, I take that as a green light.   Only you can decide how you feel about the comments given, but having as much information as possible before buying is definitely a huge plus.   Forewarned is forearmed.

And that, dear readers, is savvy shopping!

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2 thoughts on “Are Customer Reviews Worth Reading?

  1. Thank you for a great and informative series of articles. One thing I often wondered about regarding reviewers was how often are they fake ones planted by members of the company themselves? I believe this is a bit of a money earner for some companies who use Facebook and similar formats to sell products. ‘Caveat Emptor’

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