Putting Consumer Reviews in Review

March 27, 2018

As a parent-to-be who’s been sifting through and vetting an assortment of baby products previously unknown to me, I’ve found myself reading a lot of consumer reviews lately. And, because I’m prone to overanalyzing purchase decisions, it got me thinking: is the consumer review as we know it really all that credible, and what’s the future hold?

So I did a little digging. Prognosticators have been speculating on the future of consumer reviews for years, but nothing’s changed. The Consumer Reports model remains dated and in decline, and anonymous peer reviews – though as powerful as ever – have never felt more questionable. 

Eighty-five percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a friend’s word, and we read an average of seven before making a purchase decision. Yet, the reviews we read are easily gamed. They’re often paid for by third-party companies that offer free or discounted products in exchange, and the vast majority of these agreements are said to result in five-star ratings

Therein lies the status quo. Our thirst for reviews is at an all-time high, and the quality of our reviews is at an all-time low. Let’s remember that Consumer Reports, dated as it may be, spends in the neighborhood of $25 million per year to purchase and objectively test products and pit them against their nearest competitors.

What’s the future hold? This forecast calls for our social networks, aggregation and personalization to play a deciding role.

  • Social network integration seems like a no-brainer. Who’s more trustworthy, a known connection, or Suzy B. from Albuquerque? While our own networks might not have the exact review we’re looking for, at least not as immediately as the Amazons, Yelps and Angie’s Lists of the world do now, our extended networks might…eventually. At the very least, we’ll be able to click through and see the real social profiles of our reviewers. 
  • Aggregation is the likely next step, with both reviewers and review services beginning to merge. Imagine a world in which you can see all the online reviews a person’s written, and where all reviews follow the same general format and rating system.
  • And personalization, in the same way our interests and preferences are creepily known already, might very well follow. If we were to suddenly start getting served reviews based on our own biases, the power of the consumer review might suddenly become even more powerful.

One thing’s for certain: the consumer review as we know it is best seen through the rearview.