Customer Ratings on Websites

Just got a great call from a potential customer who was quite confused. And I don’t blame him one bit. He got burned by a competitor of ours and was now skeptical about us.

Let me give you a quick background.

Companies like eBay and Amazon – both of which sell items from third-party vendors – have a rating system. You’re likely quite familiar with them. These rating systems give the buyers a chance to review and rate specific items sold on those websites. It’s a great tool for customers to use when determining whether to buy a specific item. If a product is rated well, those products are more likely to sell. Makes sense.

But these legit ranking systems on websites like eBay and Amazon are creating a new trend for other websites. These other websites are now creating a ranking system of their own. So what’s wrong?

These other websites aren’t selling products of third-party vendors. They are selling their own products.

Think about that for a moment.

ABC website sells its own products, and then maintains its own rating system for its own products. The result?

Well, take a guess what happens when someone leaves a bad rating for one of the website’s products? Think it gets published? Yeah, I doubt it too.

A couple of our competitors (who shall of course remain nameless) have implemented their own rating system. Now guess how many bad ratings there are among the thousands (yes, thousands) of products that they sell? You guessed it – none. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Thousands of products, and not a single negative review.

Now guess how many five-star ratings there are for its own products? Many. Mucho. Lots.

So this potential customer of ours thought what came naturally – “Wow! What a great store! Thousands of items – many with five star ratings – and not a single negative rating to be found! What a great place to shop!” Wrongo.

When he received his apparently poor quality tie, he submitted a negative review for the tie. He was fairly blunt (he emailed it to me), but nothing disparaging and no bad language. Clearly, this review would be helpful for the next guy to shop on this website.

But will anyone see this review? Nope. Why? Shockingly, the review wasn’t approved (can you hear my sarcasm?)

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. If the website published the review, do you think the other 57 ties of that design would ever sell again? Probably not. So why publish it?

Ah, yes. Because that’s honest business. Well honest business isn’t what’s going on here.

My suspicion about this website is validated when you actually read those five-start written reviews of its products. They all read the same way. Many of them are nearly identical, and they all have that same positive tone to them. Indeed, you’d think that these ties cure cancer or spit out money like an ATM. Never has so much enthusiasm been made for a single tie. And this type of review can be found on many of their products.

Now I ask – did someone buy 173 products from this website and then proceed to give 173 individual glowing reviews for each of these items? All of which he happened to love? Yep, I doubt it too.

Something’s fishy. What are the odds that these five-star reviews are legit? I think McCain has a better chance of winning the presidency in 2008 – and this blog entry is being written in December 2008.

I’m not trying to pick on this one website, but it is a great example of how websites create a completely misleading, fraudulent appearance of themselves online without anyone ever noticing – not even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) who is supposed to govern these matters. And you, the shopper, is at risk with no one watching your back.

So here’s the point. Don’t take rankings so seriously.

Instead, here’s a simple idea for you. If you see something on a website that looks good, first check to see if that website has a reasonable return policy. If they do, and you like what you see, order one product. If it works out, great. Buy more. Buy a million, I don’t care.

But if it doesn’t, send the item back for a refund. Just be sure to leave a negative review for the item, and watch to see if it appears on the website after you submitted it.

I’ll bet you a tie that it doesn’t.

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One Response to “Customer Ratings on Websites”

  1. Adam Says:

    I totally agree! I actually got burned buying biker shorts from a website hosting its own ranking system. When I submitted a bad review (the shorts were incredibly uncomfortable), the website didn’t publish it! When I called them about it, the receptionist practically ADMITTED to me that they don’t publsih bad rankings!!! Can you believe it?? Never ever again will I trust these “rankings”!!

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