What’s Holding Back the Online Reviews Industry?

If it seems like online reviews have gotten worse in the last few years, you’re not the only one to notice. A smattering of glowing reviews for products people haven’t even purchased are all over Amazon, product review blogs with unnecessarily long URLs and bad WordPress themes flood the front pages of Google, and product descriptions are often so convoluted, they typically don’t even accurately describe the product on the page. With opinions so varied and little honesty on the web, what happened to the online review industry?

Blog Income Problems

The primary problem with the review community is the incentive. Review bloggers usually have two options when it comes to making revenue from their blogs: affiliate revenues or advertising. With advertising giants like Google yielding pennies for thousands of website hits, many site owners are moving towards writing reviews for products from either Amazon or affiliate product sites instead. These affiliate programs allow bloggers to give their opinion about products available for sale and then receive a residual income if someone buys the product after reading the review on their site. The problem? The reviews aren’t honest.

Many reviewers throw 5 star reviews around like a merry go ’round tossing kids back into the playground. They flood the marketplace with positive reviews and forego honesty for the sake of a side income. But can we blame them? Favorable reviews lead to affiliate sales for expensive products and can mean anywhere from 4-6% of the gross sale price in profits for the blog owners. A survey done by Dimensional Research Group found that an astounding 90% of online shoppers relied on positive reviews to purchase a product. Positive reviews mean sales and bloggers are ready to cash in.

Negativity All Around

If you compare the frequency with which you leave positive reviews on sites like Amazon compared to the number of times you’ve shared vitriol for a company’s incompetence, you’ll see the next issue at hand. The majority of people who leave online reviews are disgruntled customers. People have a tendency to only share their thoughts when a product vastly underperforms, leading to a flood of negative reviews for otherwise OK products. This distinct lack of positive reviews to “balance out” the negative ones ends up burying products at the bottom of search lists and skews perception about what’s actually worth purchasing.

Customer Service Reviews

Quality customer service is king. For many customers, a good customer service infrastructure is just as important in the later life of the product than the product itself. If a company handles a situation poorly, it often manifests itself in a product review (51% of customers blame customer service for not resolving their problem). When outraged customers take to Amazon to express their grievances about poor customer service, it reflects poorly on an otherwise good product. This crossing of paths between appropriate forums for grievances muddies the waters of product reviews even more.

For the online review community to change, the incentives need to change. Instead of offering affiliate commissions to sell products, that money could instead be used to mobilize an existing customer base to share thoughts about the brand. Even with a myriad of customer feedback online, the only way still to know whether a product is worth your time is to try it out yourself.

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