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Are user reviews important when buying something new?

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Which? tests over 2,700 products a year, and we always do our best to make sure our reviews reflect real-life use as closely as possible. But sometimes there’s nothing to replace a testimonial from a real person…

Every now and then, long-term use of a product can find unexpected quirks that weren’t revealed in the testing process.

For instance, our very own Martyn Saville from Money Research shared his experience of setting up a fridge in his kitchen in a very different manner to how we would in the test lab:

‘It would be good to know what weight a fridge freezer can take on top of it before it complains. I’ve got a mini-freezer that I put on top of my fridge freezer, but the latter made loud complaining noises until I removed the second smaller freezer.’

I used to keep a microwave on top of my own fridge freezer myself without any problems, but Martyn’s experience raises an interesting thought for how we could further adapt our tests to mimic everyday use of a product.

Another great example from Conversation editor Hannah Joliffe, who owned an HTC phone which she loved using, except for the one frustration that she couldn’t find the £-sign on any of the keyboard menus (some digging around with the Tech team uncovered it eventually!)

‘My phone didn’t come with a printed manual, so you just have to work these things out for yourself. In this case the £-sign was hidden in a sub menu of a sub menu – hardly easy to locate!’

Tell us and we’ll tell manufacturers

Letting us know about quirks like this gives us a great opportunity to feed back to manufacturers on how they can improve their products. In the last month alone I’ve spoken to representatives from Samsung and Sony to share feedback from our members as well as findings from our tests, and throughout the year Which? works closely with manufacturers to let them know the issues we’re finding with their products.

That’s why all of our online reviews allow Which? members to add their own views and opinions on the products they own. By sharing your experiences with us, we can contact manufacturers about problems or even adapt our testing to respond to new suggestions.

Have you had any unusual experiences of owning a product in the last few years? Let us know here, or add your own comments to the Which? review of your product so you can share your experiences with a much wider audience.



I’ve found reviews of films and other goods on Amazon and Ebay excellent and accurate. But these are written by people who actually watch or use them often over a long period..

Reviews by Which? can be wide of the mark – Like a Boshe washing machine that was listed as Best Buy that I found rubbish- broke down just after the warranty ran out. – But some software was excellent and still being used.

My other point is about cost – if an item is three times the cost of another – somehow I’d expect it to be better anyway – so often not a fair comparison.

I find reviews detailed extremely useful, especially those that point out the positive and negative features of a product and/or make comparisons with similar products. They can be a lot more use than information provided by retailers and so-called ‘professional’ reviews. The most useful reviews I encountered was for a Hewlett-Packard printer/scanner/copier. They pointed out the strengths and weaknesses very accurately.

I tend to ignore brief reviews and those that are either very positive or very negative.

Reviews of online retailers are also very revealing. Most are good at delivering products promptly, but the problems arise if there there is a fault, either when new or afterwards. I was appallingly treated by a large online retailer based in France. I subsequently found out that this company had many poor reviews.

User reviews are very helpful. No amount of laboratory testing can tell you how good or bad a product will be when it’s used in the REAL WORLD. Before I buy any new product, I read both reviews: i.e. the review from Which? and then owners’ comments.

I would like Which? to allow other users to reply to questions posted in the user reviews. I have read some user reviews on Which? and I see there are users with questions about a product and they ask if other owners of that product can help them. At the moment, there is no way of replying to the person – except posting a ‘review’ and hope they read it.

I think Which? could improve when it comes to “Tell us and we’ll tell manufacturers”. I have seen some products with lots of negative comments and Which? says they have contacted the manufacturer – and then nothing happens. Does Which? forget to contact the manufacturer again to follow up?


I understand your last point about Which? contacting the manufacturers. I have been involved in evaluating ‘pre-production’ electronic items. I may identify a good point and the reason why that feature is important, I am then surprised when the final product that goes to market no longer has that feature. Sometimes, even if it is something that is easily changed in firmware and I remind the manufacturer, nothing happens.

As a chartered engineer I can consider my own development work involving electronic goods. I realise there are some good suggestions that I just never get around to implementing!

tryptophan says:
10 January 2012

I find detailed reviews on reputable websites like Which to be very helpful and add a lot of practical flavour to the more technical testing based detail that Which provides. Which’s own review platform struggles with critical mass and I wonder what you could do to increase the volume (eg emails out encouraging reviews with an easy click through?). I am now very concerned about how accurate a picture reviews on retailers websites create, due to the application of rose tinted editorial policy by retailers. It would be an interesting topic for Which to look into on behalf of consumers. For example, I just had a negative product review rejected by John Lewis on the grounds that it “might discourage people from buying the product” and that it was “not constructive” and “it would have been accepted if positive”. The review is below – judge for yourselves:

As expected, the lamp looks attractive, but does not work as the transformer has the wrong sized plug. It is also odd that nowhere on the product, its packaging, instructions, or on the website does it say what the energy useage is – which for what should be an energy efficient product is presumably underselling itself.
Unfortunately this means that the recipient of the Christmas present has the hassle of returning it.

Just Me says:
19 January 2012

YES 100%

I always check the reviews, and like many of my on-line savvy friends, have become something of an expert for ignoring the angry complainer, in order to target the real critiques. The reviews make buying on-line a much safer bet, and keep the producers on their toes. No matter how good the item seems, or the fantastic deal appears, if there are a lot of reasoned complaints in the reviews, it’s goodbye and onto the next choice in line.

fatma says:
31 January 2012

I always value the reviews on my shopping. However there are some type of websites that only publish good reviews. For instance recently I bought a contact lens solution from an online shopping site and was not happy with the solution, I left a review but never been published so now I know why only good fake reviews there. There must be a way to name and shame these kind of companies.

I find user reviews very helpful. Which? lab tests are fine up to a point, eg testing for freezer efficiency, which users cannot be expected to be aware of. However, Which? reviews seem to have become increasingly unreliable. Often they contradict user reviews not only in Which? itself but also on Amazon and Google, in areas that Which? should be sufficiently expert, such as ease of use.
Some examples: the “Which? best buy” Panasonic phone I bought has very poor sound quality. Which gave it top marks, but user reviews warned of the poor sound, some questioning Which?’s tests.
the “Which? best buy” shaver I bought was rated 5* for ease of use, but users complained that the display is cryptic and difficult to read, which I also found to be the case.
In your DAB radio tests you are more concerned with whether radios have an alarm, how many alarms each set has, and whether they can be set for differnt days of the week. Ease of tuning is almost completely ignored. However, your user reviews, and user reviews elsewhere such as Amazon, usefully draw attention to how easy or difficult they are to tune.