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Buying online - the value of "buyers reviews"

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#1 Colin-M


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 13:38

Reading this thread about the demise of shops, it occurred to me that some of the issues appear to be:
  • Handling or trying the goods
  • The advice you can get on the goods
What do you guys think about online reviews of goods & suppliers?
I don't mean for things like a 24-70 or a D800, as there are plenty of specialised reviewers & discussion forums.
I'm more thinking of more general goods and places like Amazon, Dabs.com etc.

I had to get an external Hard Disk in November and couldn't believe the range of review comments for any given item. Even items with a high percentage of positive reviews, also had a significant number of 1/5 scores, with people reporting issues.

Does this just mean we now have higher visibilty of issues that were previously hidden to us but have existed all along? Or are there fundamental flaws with some of the review sources, where the signal to noise ratio and difficulty assessing the person reviewing make this a questionable way to base a buying decision on?

If any of you would care to advise on any techniques you have for identifying meanigful buyer reviews or filtering out the noise, I'd be interested.

#2 nfoto


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 13:45

In first hand I'd expect S/N ratio to be "internet style". meaning low and you have to wade through a lot of nonsensical comments.

#3 Dallas


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 18:09

And thus the inherent value of fora such as Fotozones/Nikongear presents itself. Instead of reading a multitude of comments from complete strangers about various products, you get to track the value of the forumite's opinion by looking at their posting history on the site, reading what they have to say about other things and what they actually do with the gear they buy.

You can't get that kind of veracity from reviews posted on B&H or Amazon.com because you don't have a clue who the person making the review is. It might even be Ken Rockwell.

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#4 simato73


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 18:17

I don't rely on "user reviews" as they don't provide balanced expert information.
Most of the time it is polarised, either with a fanboy attitude or a total negative resonse due to some problem often due more to user inability than actual defect of the product.
As such "user reviews" are best left unread, at least for the purpose of taking purchase decisions.
That said there are plenty of technically accurate "professional" reviews about most items, one just has to find the relevant reputable and specialised review sites. I use them a lot for IT, photography and outdoors gear reviews and have always found that the reviews were accurate and helped me get exactly the product I was looking for.

#5 Bart Willems

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 19:18

Reading the reviews reveals more than looking at the rating. As Bjørn pointed out, there's a low S/N ratio. I've seen people handing out a score of 0 or 1 for the most stupid reasons that say nothing about the product itself (usually issues with size or functionality -- eg. complaining about the Nikon SO1 that it's too small)

I think the review scores work great on commoditized goods as you can compare apples to apples. The worded reviews I usually try to cross reference with other articles of the same reviewer on products I have experience with (this works very well on Amazon)

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#6 Akira


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 19:44

So far as the reviews written in my mother tongue are concerned, it has been fairly safe to estimate the credibility according to the writing style of the reviewers: the more vulgar, the less credibility.

Colin, an external hard drive is just the matter of a bare drive and a case. I always buy them separately and built the bare drive into the case by myself, which is cheaper.
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#7 makmanos


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 20:40

Once i narrow down on choices among products based on what I need, I generally give more weigh on what the negative reviews have to say about them and some times I base my decision based on the quality of negative reviews among competing items.

I think that it's less likely to attract negative reviews motivated solely on spite against a particular product or company than it is to attract positive reviews motivated solely on favoritism and brand loyalty. I have to use some common sense and judge based on number of negative comments, the substance of those comments relative to what I care, their overall quality, coherence and completeness, cross check across more than one sites or forums and make a decision. You can still go wrong after all but I think that that's a reasonable way to use the abundance of info online to your benefit overall. Has worked for me so far fairly well.

#8 Colin-M


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Posted 16 January 2013 - 20:41

Thanks for the comments guys. Of course there are no right or wrong answers here, but there are some pertinent points above.
Please keep them coming.

Just a couple of thoughts on these two:

You can't get that kind of veracity from reviews posted on B&H or Amazon.com because you don't have a clue who the person making the review is..

Actually the reason I started a separate thread from your "physical camera shops" one is that for photo gear I completely agree with you.
It's for other stuff that the position is less clear.

Colin, an external hard drive is just the matter of a bare drive and a case.

Don't fully agree. In another situation, i was seeing a variety of comments, some from people who said they'd bought several drives from one manufacturer and never had problems, others who quoted multiple drives from the same manufacturer that had failed. In this particular case I was looking for replacement units for a NAS drive when two sets of drives from Samsung had failed within 6 months of purchase, so was already a bit twitchy.

Building the unit yourself isn't really the issue in this situation.
Guess I should have looked for the NG equivalent for this hardware!

It might even be Ken Rockwell

Now that IS a scary scenario ;)

#9 black_bird_blue


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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:13

I'm with Bjørn on this one - the signal-to-noise ratio is so low that they more or less totally lack value. It was what originally drew me to Bjørn's site - here was someone who went to great pains to put his views in context.

Another human trait is to see what you believe rather than believing what you see, which makes the reviews doubly useless: "I want to buy this thing and I think it's a good choice. Those people who reviewed it badly must just be misusing it..."

"The changing of bodies into light, and light into bodies, is very conformable to the course of Nature, which seems delighted with transmutations." - Sir Isaac Newton

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