Where do you turn to when you need a legitimate opinion on a product or service?

Whether you are seeking to replace a beat-up pair of running shoes or upgrade a dawdling phone, we often seek out online reviews to learn more about a product’s capabilities and shortcomings before making a purchase. Think popular sites like CNET or HardwareZone for consumer tech, The New York Times for novellas, and perhaps Stereophile or What Hi-Fi for audio components.

The good news is that there are plenty of reviews to be found in the digital sphere. But ask yourself this: are some of these appraisals genuinely objective? Or are they biased? Here are some attributes you can look out for if you want to sniff out the predisposed ones.


Sponsored Posts

A sponsored review is one where writers are paid or rewarded by marketers for their evaluative efforts. That’s no crime in itself. While these authors — often bloggers — generally do their best to remain impartial, some of them gravitate towards a positive review to please their sponsors, even if the product does not rightfully deserve the commendation. After all, it isn’t wise to bite the hand that feeds you, right?

To this end, sites like Get Reviewed aim to draw advertisers and bloggers together in the name of generating blog reviews to build traffic. If you want to steer clear of such endorsements, keep an eye out for disclaimers such as, “this is a sponsored article by Brand X”, or one that simply says “sponsored post” (often in teeny-weeny font). That said, let me stress that not all sponsored posts and reviews are distasteful shenanigans, but it’s good to be aware.


Review Marketing

Then there are review marketing efforts, and occasionally, shady advocacies. Rewind to late 2011 when Amazon Marketplace seller, VIP Deals, clandestinely rewarded customers for reviewing an Amazon Kindle case. The tantalising bait for consumers, in this case, was a full refund in exchange for feedback on the black leather Kindle folio cover.

According to The New York Times, the product garnered 310 five-star reviews, along with numerous four-star reviews out of 335 entries. Although VIP Deals denied the allegations, customers attested that a cover letter did accompany the Kindle case, requesting for their comment on the product in return for a full cash refund. In all fairness, the VIP Deals document did not request a glowing review specifically, but it purportedly hinted at one — “We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!” Go figure?


Pride and Prejudice

We are only human, and unfortunately susceptible to partiality. And you might be surprised; even the most hardboiled critics out there are not spared of this foible. Maybe they are closet fanboys of a specific brand, or maybe they are under pressure from superiors or advertisers to spin a positive yarn.

The first symptom of a biased review is one that gushes over the product’s strengths without a single mention of its weakness. That’s an undeniable red flag. In essence, a good review is a balanced and incisive, so beware of those reviews that omit or gloss over the negatives.

When in doubt, seek out other appraisals of the same product or service and compare notes. Use your better judgement, and remember this: if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.


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Online Reviews – Fact or Fiction?

BY Andy Sim

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