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Give us your view on user reviews

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Finding out what others have to say can help you buy anything from a car to a meal out. And with more than 150m posts on TripAdvisor, it’s clear we love user reviews. Do you love or loathe user reviews?

When I was growing up I remember getting really excited when the holiday brochure dropped through the letterbox and landed on the doormat. This signalled that the summer was on its way. Mum and dad would trawl through the brochures to find and book a holiday cottage for us somewhere in Devon, Dorset or Cornwall.

But, nowadays, it seems almost inconceivable that we’d choose a holiday based on glossy pictures alone.

Reviewing user reviews

Instead, fast forward a few years and the search for a holiday begins online. Last year when I went away with my grilfriends to Portugal, our first port of call when searching for a destination was TripAdvior. And it worked a treat. We found a charming and very cheap villa in rural Portugal. Had it not been for the hundreds of shining reviews we’d probably never have discovered this place, and we certainly wouldn’t have been brave enough to try it out.

And it’s not just travel recommendations. User reviews exist on almost every retailer website. It’s rare that I buy something without checking the user reviews (and checking in with the Which? experts) first. There might be contradictory reviews sitting cheek by jowl, but reading over a few posts can provide a pretty coherent picture and help you make your purchasing decision.

Why user reviews are important to Which?

We really value user reviews here at Which?. We encourage all members to give us their opinions on the products and services we test. Your experiences can reveal problems that develop over time that are impossible to spot when testing for a few days or even weeks in the test lab.

And, in some cases, your reviews help bring about change. For example, earlier this year you told us that you were suffering issues with the Tesco Hudl. We asked Tesco to do something about it and the supermarket giant has now released a fix.

It’s clear that user review sites do a great job at opening up a dialogue between consumers, retailers and manufacturers, ultimately leading to better products on the shelves.

Well that’s my take on user reviews sites. Now it’s over to you; I want to know what you think of them. Do you trust the reviews? Have you got any tips for using them? And have you penned any reviews yourself?

Colin T says:
27 June 2014

Generally, look out for trolls who like to rubbish everything and anything. TripAdvisor gives a helpful graphic of the split of comments between excellent and hopeless. You can always expect some poor reviews, but look at the average.
Closer to home, Which? seems guilty of taking no notice of its out reviews. For instance, look at Logik L90SSS11 steamer cooker reviews. Rubished by just about everybody, though still a Best Buy according to Which? The last reviewer there (not me) put it succinctly: “The chasm between the Which? best buy rating and the user experiences is a really worrying indictment of Which? and its testing philosophy.”

Where Which has the opportunity for user reviews it should display a histogram of user scores like Tripadvisor. There needs to be a some monitoring of user scores, and best-buy products where user scores are low should be re-evaluated. I now find it very difficult to know what to make of the situation where Which raves about a product and users don’t. I would like to see Which analyse and explain why these variances occur.

as a new user I would like to comment on International phone calls that you cant block as they do not leave a number and phone companies cannot help to stop them even though you are paying for viewing numbers, how can I stop international numbers and withheld numbers calling my land line without having to register and pay an on line company who say they can do this ?

Hi Cath, international calls are a difficult one. You may want to invest in a call blocker: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/phones-3/cpr-call-blocker-vs-truecall-call-blocker/ And we have other tips here: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/phones-3/six-ways-tech-can-stop-nuisance-calls/

Cost of frames is an all time con, extortion and robbery.

Manufacturing and “design” is low tech. and materials relatively inexpensive, clearly demonstrated by low cost sunglasses and reading glasses.

Suggest costs per gram of frames be compared with those of a Ferrari and its spares.

You do have to read the reviews carefully. Sometime the reviewer has different priorities than you, sometimes they’re outright prejudiced. Worse, some are fraudulent.

But I would often prefer the views of users than believe the gloss of a sales brochure. Just look at the reviewers’ profiles and look at the dates of the reviews too. Used properly, Trip Advisor can be as useful as Which?

We have used Trip Advisor several times and been happy with the results. This has included personal tour guides in the Azores and in Valparaiso Chile, and B&Bs’ in Canada and the UK, and hotels in the UK.

However I am conscious that we have may have missed even better experiences because of malicious negative reviews. This is why I have been proposing to Which? that they use their user base as it will make it far more difficult and unlikely that we will get malicious or unreliable reviews.

I have had good experiences so far but it is a known problem that there are firms that can be engaged to post black and white propaganda [reviews] for around a $1 a post. There are also aggregating firms that will populate a new web site with hundreds of reviews from other sites to make it look like a business of some stature which has sold enough merchandise to generate feedback.

Restaurant reviews are very subjective and one reviewers experience may be diametrically opposed to another who dined there on the same night. Add in changes in chefs, menus, and owners, it is always going to be an area of contention.

Re: Colin T and the Logik steamer

The problem with the current Which? review system in which readers opinions are apparently not of sufficient importance for Which? to reconsider Best Buy status. Besides the Logik mentioned first post, the Red Next microwave, and the Kenwood Kmt are all Which? Best Buys where owners disagree vehemently with the BB rating. Which? say they do not do the long term testing on small appliances , around 59m a year sold in the UK. This being the case I think Which? should be reacting much more to its subscribers experiences in actually using these Best Buys.

” The Logik L90SSS11 is a three-tier steamer, and it’s one of the cheaper models we’ve tested. We’ve looked at everything from how easy it is to wash to how quickly it cooks food so we can tell you if it offers good value. Despite its relatively low price, the Logik L90SSS11 is one of the best steamers we’ve tested, earning it a Best Buy award. ”

And of the 21 reviews there are two 5 star, sixteen 1 star, one two star, and one four star. One of the five stars is a response by a Which? editor to the first complainant in February 2012. The other five good rating and the four rating were from people who had “just” or “recently” bought the steamer. The two star was from someone unhappy with Curry’s for not stocking it in store.

Overall everyone who bothered to post who had owned it for a period thought it was very poor. The quote from Which? and its BB rating still stands. There seems to be no effort by Which? to extend their original testing to see if under continued normal usage the product really is not a Best Buy.


Re: Dieseltaylor,

I think this is an excellent and well-researched comment. Perhaps there should be an attempt to do some systematic analysis of the correlation between expert verdicts and user reviews in other product categories, using your comment as a starting point. I would expect that there are going to be patterns to the things that Which doesn’t predict through its expert testing. Maybe there’s a need to send out small numbers into homes for consumer testing, or maybe there’s a need to beef up the accelerated ageing regimes used in the lab.

Which does not have its own labs; its testing is undertaken by independent test houses (including Intertek, the original in-house Which lab that was sold off). I’d imagine that these projects are commissioned as discrete contracts and that the test house has no ongoing contract or obligation to follow-up its testing in the light of user reviews. Perhaps this should change, with the test house being required to monitor user reviews and re-evaluate best buy recommendations if required over a period of 1 or 2 years. The best buy recommendations should be date stamped and say explicitly whether they have been updated.

To my mind the disparities where they exist between expert tests and user reviews should be a cause for concern at Which because they go to the heart of the Which value proposition. Online reviews didn’t exist when Which was formed and Which’s expertise was once a unique source of consumer empowerment. But now things are different and I’m not sure that it is self evident that a few weeks in the lab is a better test than several months in peoples’ homes.

Kess says:
29 June 2014

I find reviews very helpful even negative ones as you can make an informed choice.
however many members of the public do not understand what a review actually is or expect over the odds or make complaints that are not reasonable.
This is worrying as it can take a long time to read a handful of reviews for each item you want to buy or book for.
I’m not sure what the answer would be to keep these under control but I don’t think suppliers/companies should start on the blackmailing route although I do know and have seen some malicious reviews.

I find some product reviews most useful most useful if they mention important points that are not covered in the information provided by the seller. I pay most attention to reviews that focus on the good and bad points, because all but the simplest products will have both.

I find user reviews most helpful, especially when you are able to ask a question of the reviewer. The product specification does not always give me the information I require but if I ask a question of a user/owner. I always get a reply that enables me to make an informed purchase. I find Amazon excellent in this respect. The user/owner is taking the place of the shop manager or sales staff when ordering online.

These can be very useful but one must realise there could be two sides to the story depending on taste & what is actually wanted .
There are some sites especially NHS Forums who only publish what shows them in a good light..So often the truth is not published.

If you make a purchase via the Amazon website you may be ordering from one of their Marketplace traders. In the case of electrical travel adaptors you could end up with an unsuitable and unsafe adaptor that may look different from what you ordered, and a list of reviews of a product could actually relate to different products. If this is difficult to believe, have a look at this recent Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/counterfeit-electricals-plugs-travel-adaptors-amazon-marketplace-ebay/

While safety may not be an issue with many of the goods sold by Amazon and its Marketplace traders, we deserve to know exactly what product is offered, with technical details and appropriate photos, and of course for all reviews to relate to the specific product.

To be fair to Amazon, they do react to wrongly described or incorrectly delivered items. I’ve seen many that are marked as ‘no longer available’, with the reason that the item is not as advertised or similar reason.

And Amazon returns policy is second to none (not even John Lewis).

If you go into Comet or Richer Sounds and buy a washing machine, it too may be dangerous, so it’s not as good as buying from Amazon because there are no user reviews to read.

You should always read the reviews before buying!

I agree that reviews are useful and accept that Amazon is good at handling returns, but their site is selling some electrical goods that are unsafe. Apart from adaptors without earth connections and fuses (see the Convo in my link) you can buy electrical products with unfused continental two-pin plugs. That contravenes the regulations, which require all electrical appliances sold in the UK to be fitted with 3-pin fused plugs. If you plug a continental two-pin plug into a 3-pin socket you could burn down the house if a fault occurs. There are two Conversations that discuss two-pin plugs and other electrical safety issues.

One of our contributors has also found products with counterfeit three-pin plugs sold on Amazon. These can have no earth connection and/or no fuse. I have seen some glowing reviews for products that are dangerous, but thankfully the listings have been reviewed. Many people don’t understand electrical safety.

I believe that Amazon should take responsibility for ensuring that their Marketplace traders are selling safe goods that comply with current UK regulations. I suspected a problem a couple of years back and Amazon would not intervene regarding a suspected safety issue. Many of us would avoid dealing with a totally unknown company, yet we are happy to do this if they are an Amazon Marketplace trader.

I used to look at online reviews and shop in Comet – when it was still trading.

Oops. That should read: I have seen some glowing reviews for products that are dangerous, but thankfully the listings have been REMOVED.

Agreed that the plug issue really needs sorting. The government legislated that a UK plug must be fitted, but there are just so many devices sold either without or worse, a crappily designed adapter.

I’m not over-concerned about the lack of earth connection because so many devices don’t need the earth and frequently the standard 3-pin 13A plugs actually have plastic earth pins – needed solely to open the safety shutters of the sockets.

But it does need sorting out. There should be a UK plug with exception of certain items for use in bathroom safety 2-pin outlets (mostly mains electric razors).

As you say, most products don’t need an earth connection. The problem is that if someone plugs in one that does, you could have a fatality if a fault develops.

A bathroom shaver socket is only suitable for low power devices such as shavers and rechargeable toothbrushes. I’ve seen a figure of 50W and that may not even be a continuous rating. Even a laptop charger will take substantially more than this. But that’s getting of the subject of product reviews.

Online reviews are great to gain an impression of a product. However some online retailers do not publish negative reviews. I bought a summer house from Tesco online, there were parts missing, parts that were different size to those on the instruction sheet and some of the wood was badly warped. I was invited to submit a review, so I did. It was not abusive in any way merely factual. After posting the review Tesco had removed it within 15 minutes even though “customer services” had not bothered to return my emails.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Odd. I like to think I speak the truth, as you put it, but I’ve never had a single post pulled – except in Which? members’ community, and that was later (and belatedly) reinstated. Mind you, I don’t sub,it reviews to sites such as Tesco, but I do to Amazon, who seem remarkably open to criticism.

This comment was removed at the request of the user