Do you consult consumer reviews?

I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts. (Mark Twain, Wearing White Clothes speech, 1907)

In asking this question about consulting consumer reviews, I’m talking not only about those for books (such as on GoodReads and Amazon), but for restaurants, hotels, and all sorts of other things like clothes and appliances. I use them – though not for books. That is, I never use sites like Amazon or GoodReads to find books to read. When I consult book reviews, it’s usually after I’ve read the book, and I want to compare my response with my favourite bloggers and reviewers.

But, I do check consumer or user reviews for other products and services, most commonly restaurants and hotels when I’m travelling. And, I generally find them very helpful. I can’t think of a time when a TripAdvisor* restaurant review, for example, has led me astray. Similarly I find user reviews on clothing sites extremely helpful. However, I do read sites like TripAdvisor with my antennae out, with, that is, my critical faculty fully engaged.

Here are some of the things I look for:

Date: how recent are the reviews? I check that TripAdvisor hasn’t listed reviews by my “friends” first. Some of these reviews can be significantly older than the latest reviews and may even be for an earlier iteration of the place I’m checking out.

Frequency: how many reviews are there? And are there several for recent dates? Places, particularly restaurants, can change quite quickly, so old reviews may not be very useful or relevant to what the place is like now.

Content: what do the users actually say? I focus more on that than the rating they give. Reading what users say and how they say it, is not only relevant for the actual content, but can give you insight into how closely they may match your preferences and expectations. (See under “the reviewers” below).

Ratings (particularly the ratio of good to bad): one or two bad reviews rarely faze me. They usually mean a mismatch between what the restaurant (or whatever it is) offers and what the reviewer was expecting or, it can be that the restaurant just had one of those days.

The reviewers: while I almost never know the reviewers, I try to understand where they are coming from. It’s usually easy to tell if a reviewer was looking for something different. Diners may complain about small portions or slow service in a fine dining establishment, or a reader might criticise the lack of plot in an experimental novel. You can also look at the reviewer’s profile and check out their other reviews to get a sense of how they review overall. I particularly love clothing  reviews when the reviewer shares something about her body shape, particularly height and weight. It helps me calibrate, for example, their assessment of example of whether an item is “true to size” or fits small or big.


It’s worth it – Wine Glass Bay from the lookout

I thought I’d share here an example showing how the needs and abilities of individual reviewers can impact what they write. They are comments on TripAdvisor about the Wine Glass Bay Lookout Walk in Tasmania:

  • “It’s a short walk to the lookout and it’s totally worth it”
  • “A bit of effort but not too ambitious, a bit of sweat, but the view is worth it”
  • “we did find some parts of the walk tough on the way up, but it was well worth it”
  • “Prepare ye for this! It is a hard slog and a fair way, but the end result is stunning, especially if the sun shines at the right time”
  • “Challenging hike to get to the lookout but definitely worth it”
  • “The walk/climb up from the carpark to the lookout is not for the unfit … especially the elderly”
  • “The long walk up the hill was certainly worth it”

So, “short walk” or “a hard slog”? Mr Gums and I would concur with the second dot-point commenter. We found it a little strenuous but comfortably doable, and not particularly long. Indeed we went on to complete the 11km Hazards Bay circuit rather than just do the return 3-4km lookout walk. It’s a well-trodden well-made path, but it is uphill and has some steps. We’re moderately fit late middle-aged people. Those who are overweight, well on in years, or who suffer from physical conditions like arthritis or breathing issues, though, would not find it easy.

Owner responses: how does the owner respond to reviews, particularly bad reviews? Are they defensive, or, worse, aggressive towards the reviewer, or do they respond calmly, explaining the situation and/or what they’ve done to rectify the situation. Even where the reviewer is being unreasonable, I like to see the owner, as in all good customer service situations, attempt to mollify the situation rather than inflame it.

Authenticity: there is always the risk of fake reviews.There are owners/authors/relations/paid reviewers etc who write good reviews about themselves and, worse, bad reviews about others, and there are those who tick the box that they have no business or personal relationship with the product or service when they do. There’s not a lot we consumers can do about that except to look closely for the “rat”. Sometimes it will stand out (be over the top in one direction or another, for example; be too specific or not specific enough), but often it won’t. My approach is to not rely solely on one platform. I check the product/service’s website, where there is one, and other review services or listings, including, where possible, professional ones. No-one ever said research was easy!

Images: I love it when reviewers include photos of dishes they’ve eaten at a restaurant or cafe, or of the rooms in a hotel. Photos can complete the “picture” beautifully. And pictures rarely lie – though of course, they are selected. TripAdvisor identifies where the photo is management supplied (providing management is honest of course).

So, yes, I do consult consumer reviews regularly for certain products – particularly for clothing, eating and travel. The downside, particularly when travelling, is that you can lose the spontaneity of, and sense of achievement in, discovering your own treasures. So, we don’t use reviews slavishly or exclusively. And, we always watch out for opinion-givers like Mark Twain! Following this approach, I find that on balance consumer reviews are one of the benefits our out digital age.

What about you? If you do use them, what sorts of products do you use them for? Do you use them to choose your reading? Is your experience mostly positive or negative?

* I use various consumer sites/reviews but TripAdvisor is the one I know best.


34 thoughts on “Do you consult consumer reviews?

  1. Some interesting observations. Most people I know use reviews to find out what something is like. I do this for accommodation but also things like gadgets or items for the home. I think the key is to look at a few reviews to get an overall picture. 😀

    • Yes, agree Home and Horizon – good to get second and third opinions. I check multiple reviews. I sort of implied that but it was worth making it a specific point,

      I also check out appliances too – and things like bags – though sometimes there are so many models for, say, a washing machine that you often don’t find very many reviews for th every specific one you are looking at. Do you find that?

  2. The spouse is our travel agent and he uses Trip Adviser, using much the same antennae as you. We’ve found it entirely satisfactory for choosing accommodation and for inside tips on getting into attractions without the queues.
    I’ve tried using Urban Spoon now Zomato, but I’ve found it unsatisfactory because the sort of people who contribute to it seem to be more interested in what’s trendy rather than in the quality of food or service.

    • Sounds like we are similar Lisa. I used to use Urban Spoon a bit, but haven’t transferred really to Zomato. I think you’re right that Urban Spoon is a bit more “foodie” than TripAdvisor, but my main problem with the UrbanSpoon app on my iPad was its location services. I would have great trouble having it wither recognise where I was or letting me look elsewhere. It was ok in this regard in a browser, but terrible in the app.

      Does the spouse add you reviews to Trip Advisor?

  3. My traveling colleagues and I find Trip Advisor invaluable. I also try to find reviews whenever I’m buying something online, like clothes or electronic things. I use Birds Nest quite a lot (for clothes) and find the reviews there really helpful, particularly about sizing and fit. In the early years of this century (!) when I was pregnant I found online reviews of obstetricians, many probably libelous. But it definitely enabled me to rule out some, and feel happier about the one I eventually chose (who was marvellous, just as the reviews said…)

    • Haha, Michelle, I haven’t used it for medical services but will remember that next time I need specialist services. But, when I was writing about clothes I was specifically thinking BirdsNest here and Lands End in the US. I have found the user reviews invaluable. Do you add your own reviews to the BirdsNest site?

  4. I use zomato for restaurants but only the ratings, not the comments. I also read customer reviews when buying whitegoods.

    • Thanks Sharkell. Yes, I have used reviews for whitegoods too though I find it sometimes difficult to find very many reviews for the specific model I am looking at.

      Why do you only look at ratings on zomato but not the comments? (I should say that this is what my son does. We’ve had a few deep and meaningfuls about this.)

      • Individual comments are too variable based on circumstance and personality – you don’t know the person’s background or emotional status. Ehereas the numerical value as an average gives a bit more of an objective review.

        • Haha, that’s what my son says, Sharkell, but I reckon you can suss out quite a bit about personality and circumstance from what people say.

          As for rating, I’m a pretty generous rater – I wish TripAdvisor allowed 3.5! – so I think you don’t know on what basis people are rating. Is it some absolute scale or is it a moving scale based on the sort of place? Are they a tough rater or an easy rater? DO they rate mostly on, in a room, size or cleanliness, or service or facilities?

  5. I sometimes read them for entertainment value, but to be honest I think as a platform, it’s a mixed bag. Many of these so called consumer sites are sharks when it comes to how they treat business owners. Google calls all the time saying that you don’t come up on an internet search when you bloody do and they want big bucks to remedy that. They don’t identify themselves on caller ID which is questionable for a legit business, and then as for YELP…. You can have positive reviews and then they will suddenly disappear. They also charge per month.

    I have an acquaintance who has a restaurant and customers will threaten her w bad reviews in order to get free future meals.

    • Oh yes, Guy, I agree they are a mixed bag, and I have heard some of those restaurant stories. People will always find ways to use services for ill as well as good won’t they. I’ve never heard of Google calling businesses, but that seems weird. I assume it is Google and not people like those Microsoft Windows scams? I’ve seen YELP but never really used it. I wasn’t aware they charged – who do they charge? The business to be listed? That sounds like a bit of a different ballgame.

  6. I ALWAYS check the Rotten Tomato tomato meter before seeing a movie in a theater. I read reviews in Rolling Stone and Time too, but a big splat on the tomato meter will keep me away from the movie.

    • Haha, Carolyn! I often notice the Rotten Tomato site come up when I google films but I rarely use it. I’ll look at it a bit more now! I do sometimes have a quick look at IMDb, and I do use a very negative score as a disincentive. IMDb is a very course sort of rating so I just add it to the mill but it’s another piece of information to use.

  7. We use trip advisor all the time & regularly post our own reviews. We filter the comments in much the same way you do. We particularly enjoy writing the first review for a new site.

    Mr Books is also good at checking out stuff for major appliances & furniture purchases from anywhere he can.

    I use good reads the same way you do. Most of my reading tips come from our regular customers at work 🙂

    • Yes, I regularly write reviews on TripAdvisor too Brona, and like you enjoy being among the first for a site. Appliance reviews can be very useful if you can find them I agree – people will say whether they do what they say they’ll do (mostly if they don’t of course!)

      Fair enough re your own customers. You know them and their likes, and can engage in a discussion to help hone their comments to see how they’d match yours, can’t you?

  8. I might be the opposite of you. I don’t travel and I enjoy getting clues about books from reviews before I read them. I often buy new books based on the reviews in these pages – I’m going to stir myself to try some of the indie fiction Grab The Lapels reviews – and sometimes try new restaurants based on reviews in the local newspaper, but don’t otherwise read or contribute to food reviewing.

    • Just as well there are people like you who read current newspaper reviews Bill! I know my Mum regularly checks them out, and often gets ideas for book gifts for the family.

      Of course, if you don’t travel then places like TripAdvisor would not really cross your path. I do check restaurant reviews in our newspaper’s weekly food guide for restaurants in town.

  9. When booking accommodation, I always check out the photos. They’re a dead giveaway, particularly if the most promoted feature is the spa bath. Ugh. Also, if there are no photos of the bedrooms, or the photos are fuzzy, stay clear!

    • Haha beeblu, good advice about no bedroom photos or fuzzy ones. I’ve unconsciously used those criteria but hadn’t actually articulated it. Photos of rooms can be so tricky because angles can make something small look quite big. You have to look at spaces around furniture, or even whether there is other furniture, sometimes to get a real sense don’t you.

  10. I do indeed consult reviews! I myself am terrible at getting around to reviewing products after I have bought them but I appreciate those who do. They are really useful for appliances and cycling gadgets and clothes, especially cycling clothes. They are also useful when I am visiting a new place and need to find a vegan-friendly place to eat.

    • Tut tut! You should add your reviews. I have food intolerances so I try to make sure I aways comment on how a restaurant or cafe caters for that. I’m hoping it helps. And I try to comment on noise too. I want to be able to talk when I eat out. But it’s probably the clothes reviews I find most useful.

  11. I do google and read reviews when my money is involved. If I know the author I don’t worry about reviews. I do review TripAdvisor and as to restaurants, I rely on my friends.

    • Haha, love this Meg, “when my money is involved”! I agree that friends are the best source when it comes to restaurants, but they are not so useful when you are travelling. I try to review local restaurants on TripAdvisor for out-of-towners, and then use it myself when I am out of town!

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