Long before the internet wove its way into our daily lives, people were giving reviews on products and services. Marcia told Mary all about her fabulous new Whirlpool washing machine. Dick told Bob about his John Deere and Phil told Dick about the snazzy little Ford Pinto he just purchased. Of course, pride was definitely on the line so there may have been some embellishment about the features and price paid. Marketing departments loved these conversations taking place at backyard barbeques and neighbourhood parks. Word of mouth was the only review, spread like wildfire and it was (mostly) genuine.
Today word of mouth is so much different, as are reviews. If an online store doesn’t have the option for adding and reading product reviews, there is a fairly good chance someone somewhere has posted a comment or five on a blog amongst the hipster rants and amateur photographer galleries. Today, Phil could just Google the product name and viola! There are 605,986 hits for Ford Pinto Hybrid Mini. The word on the street is the new Pinto will be the answer to all metropolitan parking woes because it fits nicely in a bicycle sized spot but still has enough room to transport a whole brass band. But wait! the reviews all point to bad things like spontaneous disintegration of the Johnson Rod and self igniting bucket seats. Phil thinks it can’t be right, everyone said it was built with the latest technology. Oh wait! There is a blog here saying the Pinto Mini is the best thing ever developed! Gas mileage is through the roof, lifetime warranty on parts! Woohoo!
What is wrong with this scenario? A gaggle of bad reviews, but stuck right in the middle is an oddly unbalanced collection of praise for the same product, using words like ‘revolutionary’ and ‘lifetime warranty’? Perhaps, just maybe the blog is planted? Believe it or not, it happens. Companies hire people in far off places to write supposedly genuine reviews of their products, sometimes even on the online store. Therefore word of mouth, whether it is in person or online, is still a very valuable commodity.
The use of social media in review of products and services has exploded, forever changing the face of consumer education. ROI Research reported in June of 2010 that of the 53% of Twitter users who recommend products or services in their Tweets, 48% follow through on the purchase. Social networking site my Yearbook polled their users on the subject of peer recommendations within the site. The response was a whopping 74% of users who received consumer related advice on myYearbook found it influential in their decision. The sample of users canvassed may have been small and of a specific demographic, but the fact remains; word of mouth is big. How it translates into a purchase depends upon consumer buying trends.
The American media has been crying about the economic downturn in the US for long enough to dry up several of the world’s oceans. We all know it’s not good, but it’s been worse. According to a study done in 2010 by Pew Research Center, 55% of the adult labour force in the US “experienced some work related hardship” including unemployment, reduction in wage, reduction in hours or a forced move to part time hours. Additionally, the housing and stock market bubbles that burst just leading up to the recession triggered an “estimated 20%” shrink in the wealth of the average American household (according to the same Pew Research Center study). People are still spending, just with more caution. Americans are researching prices, products, manufacturers, warranties and service reputations far more than ever before. Everyone wants the most bang for their buck.
So we have all these people tweeting and facebooking about their fabulous purchase, but studies show consumers are researching their purchases more than ever before. Where are they getting their information? It can’t all be from social media, right? Well it could, but it isn’t. Traditional consumer reporting journals are always an option, but usually incur a cost. The best bet are reputable web review hosting sites where the appraisals are written by a team of experts in the field. Very often these sites are monitored by a team of webmasters who ensure the authenticity of the reviewers and their evaluations. Information is collected in valid ways by people who know what to look for, and is presented in an unbiased manner. Most seasoned consumers may surmise there is some type of corporate sponsorship involved in the web review site, and in reality that is a wise deduction. However, consider the fact that a web review host site is home to reviews on a multitude of products across all industries, and if there were an element of corporate sponsorship it would detract from the legitimacy of their online reputation very significantly. In short, it would be a dumb move.
Web reviews are the future of consumer education. The Mary’s and Marsha’s will still share their thoughts on new purchases and Dick will still brag to Bob about his John Deere. But hopefully the Phil’s of the world will use a web review site to get a much more honest assessment of the Ford Pinto Hybrid Mini and with a bit of luck, it will save him a lot of money and frustration down the line.