Online Reviews: A Retailer’s Friend or Foe?

are online reviews good or bad?

by Nicole Morell of Honeybunch

Earlier this week a customer asked my opinion on something in my shop she was considering buying. She wondered what I’d heard of it because the reviews she had read were “not great.” The toy she asked about, Constructibles by Mudpuppy, is made from greyboard (compressed cardboard-like material but much thicker) and has a laminated finish. As a paper-based product it’s not going to be as hardy as Lego, but I am confident that a glass of spilled juice quickly mopped up wouldn’t pose a problem and I think it’s a clever product from a quality company. But is that good enough? Ultimately she did buy the product – and I truly hope her experience is more favourable than those reviewers.

The query was timely as I am planning to add review functionality to my shop in the new year, and as a dedicated online shopper myself, I’ve come to rely more and more on what other shoppers have to say before I hit Add To Cart. Over at Sierra Trading Post, where the reviews are particularly plentiful, I abandoned a lovely-looking pair of boots because three reviewers had the same negative comment (difficult entry/exit) and x-nayed a down jacket because of a sticky zipper. I never stay in a hotel without consulting Trip Advisor. And just last night I was able to make a decision between three shoe racks from the Container Store thanks to a bang-on online review.

But with the good comes the bad. I find I am quick – maybe too quick – to discard products, hotels and restaurants based on mediocre reviews. What if those boots that first caught my eye were perfect for me, even if those other people didn’t like them? And then there is the decision paralysis. I spent more time than I’d like to admit considering four-star hotels for a weekend in Montreal last month. Four-star hotels! They must have earned those stars somehow, despite one reviewer’s description of the lobby as “sterile”, but I couldn’t rest easy with my choice because a complete stranger had coloured my perception.

I’ve since become more discerning about my reviews. I spend more time reading between the lines of a poor review. Can I relate to this person? Who are they? What do we have in common? Are they crazy? If there are spelling mistakes, that’s a strike. Ditto emoticons and creative grammar. But more to the point, I try to match the review with the product description, price and brand to come to some understanding of whether this person had set the bar too high or not high enough.

As a retailer I’m a little afraid, having seen the power of a so-so review. Not everyone is going to love everything. I’m okay with that. I think the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to online reviews.

What do you think?


  1. Reyna says:

    Great article!

    I also have used reading reviews on websites to decide on if I should buy something or not. A dress on Urban Outfitters that I loved, the reviews weren’t so good, I went to the store and tried it on anyways, I LOVE it! Others said it didn’t fit that great, but I really liked the way it fit on me, so I think sometimes you really have to think about the reviews that others are saying and ask yourself what you would be ok with in the product!

  2. Marina says:

    Well, that really is hard question… I like reading reviews on product if I can not see it in person, but I only value reviews if there are more reviews on same thing. If there is only 1-3 reviews, I simple don’t read them, because something that is good/bad for one person doesn’t make it good/bad for me… But if there are more reviews and some are good, some are bed, then I definitely make my decision based on them…
    But, not all people see it the same, so I guess its bad for producer to have a bad review which will scare away new buyers…
    I guess those are the risks of online community…

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