The drama surrounding GameStop, RobinHood, and Wall Street continues to unfold, with Google the latest to join the fray. Upset retail investors recently inundated Google with one-star reviews of RobinHood’s app in response to the company blocking trades of GameStop shares. Due to the influx of negative reviews, the RobinHood app sunk to a one-star average rating. Google chose to delete tens of thousands of these negative reviews, saying they violated its company policies. As a consumer review site, Best Company is increasingly concerned about the behavior of review aggregators, such as Google and its recent role in censoring consumer reviews regarding RobinHood. Best Company reaffirms its commitment to empowering the voice of the consumer and never deleting reviews based on their sentiment. Every review submitted to Best Company is moderated for accuracy, and upon approval, valid reviews are never removed. Ethical review moderation and publication standards are critical to ensuring that consumers can truly trust the reviews they read online. Deleting valid reviews solely because they reflect negatively upon a corporation is not only a disservice to consumers, but to the corporation as well. Negative reviews are an opportunity for companies to understand how they are falling short in the eyes of their consumers and how they can improve. As the figurative epicenter of online reputation, Google has a responsibility to set an example in the way it moderates and publishes consumer reviews. This recent case of Google removing negative reviews for RobinHood certainly demonstrates that it is currently failing in that responsibility. Best Company CEO Landon Taylor confirms, “As review manipulation and censorship has taken the spotlight on the national stage, we will continue to champion the voice of the consumer. We remain committed to our ethical review publication policies, and believe that this commitment will help make Best Company the most trusted review site. Period.”
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FADE IN A DARK AND VAST LANDSCAPE CALLED THE INTERNET - MODERN DAY Millions of people are probing, searching for reliable information about the products and companies vying for their business. They flock to flashing signs bearing star ratings, upvotes, and downvotes that flood the space, but are unsure how to make sense of all the visual noise… A Pew Research Center survey found that 81 percent of Americans rely on their own research when it comes to making important decisions. As part of their individual research, 57 percent of respondents reported that they always or almost always read customer reviews before making a purchase, with an additional 37 percent saying they sometimes read reviews. That means 93 percent of Americans consult customer reviews on a semi-regular to regular basis. It makes sense. We can learn a lot from other people’s experiences with a product or service. But customer reviews can also be very misleading if you don’t know how to properly utilize them. People often write reviews that tend to be more subjective than objective. These reviews likely reveal consumers who: had a terrible experience and are looking to release frustration. had an incredible experience they want to share. are earning rewards/compensation, either from a review site or the company itself. are trying to manipulate the company’s online reputation (positively or negatively). No matter the reason, the vast majority of reviews are written with some sort of bias. That doesn’t mean you can’t glean valuable information from customer reviews. You just need to analyze them with a discerning eye. If you want to use reviews to make the best purchasing decision possible, you need to: Unmask the Baddies — First we’ll introduce the online review baddies and the tactics they employ to manipulate and control that same online review space. Analyze the Data — We will then identify the analytical strategies everyday people need to become the review superheroes they were born to be. Don Your Cape — Through our breakdown of Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, we’ll extend the invitation to would-be review superheroes everywhere to suit up. Find Your Sidekick — Last, we’ll explain how BestCompany.com empowers everyday people by providing unbiased company evaluations and verified reviews from actual customers. 1. Unmask the Baddies of Online Reviews CUT TO THE ONLINE REVIEW BADDIES’ SECRET HIDEOUT A group of shady characters are seated around a table with a large pile of money in the middle. We hear phrases like “review inflation” and “pay to play” in whispered tones, then a collective chuckle as the people outside fall prey to their misleading tactics. It should come as no surprise that in a metropolis as big as the internet, the opportunity for bad actors to manipulate and skew the online review space is just too lucrative to pass up. Per research from the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority, fake reviews influence around £23 billion ($30.21 billion) in consumer spending each year in the UK alone. An added wrinkle to this problem is just how little the online review baddies are actually penalized themselves. At worst, the offending review is flagged or removed, or the offending account is suspended. Only in rare cases, like when the Federal Trade Commission fined an Amazon retailer $128 million for flooding their product pages with fake positive reviews, are review supervillains themselves held accountable. But in spite of these high-profile lawsuits, fake and manipulated reviews abound. A BrightLocal study revealed that nearly 75 percent of all consumers have come across at least one fake review in 2019 — and they’re becoming increasingly difficult to identify — which will only prove to damage consumer trust in the peer-to-peer review ecosystem. Consequently, this dilemma leaves review sites in a precarious position: as trust in review sites erodes, the pressure on those sites to disclose what they’re doing to combat fake reviews increases. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of showing how the proverbial sausage is made is giving fake reviewers the means to further game the system and deceive consumers. So what is to be done? In order to fight the influence of fake reviews, consumers need to understand the motivations of the people and organizations posting them in the first place. In general, fake reviews are either bought or posted by one of three possible sources: The Competition — Often, when a company, product, or service achieves a high reviewer rating on a given site (think Amazon, Yelp!, TrustPilot, etc.), especially in a competitive market, you can almost always expect an increase in negative reviews posted with the sole purpose of driving that review rating back down. The Company — But the door can swing both ways. Say a product or company’s review rating or overall ranking has dipped. You might also expect to see a sudden increase in positive reviews that are 1) engineered by parties who benefit financially from the company’s high ranking and 2) intended to restore the company to its former glory. The Platform — Sad but true: sometimes less-than-reputable review sites claiming to be objective in their rankings or reviews can actually avail top spots to the highest bidder. In some extreme cases, they’ll even suppress negative reviews as a way to falsely inflate the reputation of the companies paying them for high-ranking positions. In any case, these fake reviews are designed to manipulate consumer opinion and skew perception of the company/product as being better or worse than it actually is. Even reviews that appear legitimate can actually be paid for by companies interested in boosting their rankings. And given that most people automatically select the highest-reviewed products and services, regardless of the actual quality, this manipulation can lead to some pretty bad purchasing decisions. With all this in mind, the question remains: how do you differentiate between reviews that are sponsored by either the subject of the review itself or the competition, and actual customers who just want to share their subjective experience? Faked reviews are hard, but not impossible to spot, and knowing what to look for in both individual reviews and reviews en masse can make all the difference. With enough practice, consumers will be able to pick a fake review out of almost any lineup: The Duplicator One easy way to identify reviews is to look for common phrases or writing styles across a sample of reviews with the same score. If you find, for example, a large swath of five-star reviews that all employ the same phrasing (e.g., if 50 reviews all contain the exact phrase, “customer service was very kind and generous and considerate”). This phenomenon indicates that either 1) the reviews are being posted by the same reviewer under a variety of pseudonyms, or 2) the reviewers are being coached to mention certain key phrases by a backing organization. The Illusionist Another clue to look out for is the level of anonymity attached to an online review. Many review sites are cracking down on this particular issue, requiring reviewers to have either a valid email address or social media account before they can post. Certain sites go a step further by requiring reviewers to verify their purchase before their review gets published. The more you can link an online review to an actual person, the less likely it’s a fake. The Spammer In the online review space, timing really is everything. Remember, the top-ranked spot represents incredibly lucrative real estate on a review site’s webpage, and companies and product owners are sometimes willing to resort to less than ethical means to achieve it. As you inspect product and company reviews, pay close attention to the timing and volume of either extremely positive or extremely negative reviews. If you discover a spike in positive or negative reviews — especially if the site has experienced a change in rankings — be suspicious. The Monetizer One question you should ask when approaching any one-star or five-star review is “does this sound like a commercial?” In other words, does the review feel more like one person’s subjective experience, or is it attempting to sell you one way or the other? Do the negative reviews not only excoriate the product or company in question but also recommend a competitor? Do positive reviews laud generic features like “great customer service” without going into further depth of an actual interaction? The Blunderer As with any consumer-driven content, typos and grammatical errors are inevitable. And within certain bounds, these flaws can actually amplify a review’s credibility because real people make mistakes. That said, reviews that exhibit a high density of syntax and grammatical errors or overuse of exclamation points and capital letters might be less credible, and might have hired overseas companies to bolster their rating. Not to say that a negative experience can’t lead to a good old fashioned incoherent rant online (we’ve all been there); but the informed review reader would view that as the exception and not the rule. 2. Analyze the Data: The Review Superhero’s Utility Belt CUT TO THE DARK AND VAST ONLINE REVIEW LANDSCAPE Amid the millions of people, a handful of individuals stop probing, stop flocking. We ZOOM IN on their faces: eyes big, they’re looking at the flashing review signs as if for the first time, like they can see something nobody else can see... Spotting falsified reviews is just the first step of the process. To protect yourself and others from falling victim to falsified reviews, you need to have the right tools. Every review superhero needs to utilize some basic data analysis techniques in their fight against online review villains. Reviews typically contain two types of data: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data is essentially anything that can be counted (number of reviews, star ratings, etc.). Qualitative data is descriptive (the written review). You have to analyze quantitative and qualitative data in different ways, but comparing the information you’ve gathered from these data types is the only way to understand the full picture. Analyzing Quantitative Data Quantitative data provides you with percentages and statistics. This is useful for determining how reliable the information is. Look at the total number of reviews. When it comes to analyzing the quantitative data in customer reviews, the first thing you should look for is the total number of reviews. The more reviews are posted, the more likely it is that they portray an accurate representation of the product, service, or company. When analyzing data, most statisticians agree that you need at least 100 participants for any results to be considered valid. If what you’re researching has more than 100 reviews, it’s safe to assume that the customer ratings are an authentic representation of the product, service, or company. You can still gather useful information if there are less than 100 reviews posted; you just have to take it with a grain of salt. Look at the number of reviews for each rating. The next piece of information you want to look at is the number of reviews for each rating. This is where the numbers can be most deceiving. We instinctively want to believe that having all positive reviews and no negative reviews is indicative of a quality company. But that is not the case. Depending on the review site, companies can pay to have negative reviews removed or pay for positive reviews to be written for them. Don’t be fooled by these villainous tactics. Negative reviews are not always a bad thing. We do not live in a perfect world. Even the best companies make manufacturing mistakes and hire terrible employees. It is unrealistic to expect any product, service, or company won’t let someone down. Even if 10–15 percent of a company’s reviews are negative, the odds of you having a negative experience are pretty slim. If you only look at numbers and percentages, you will miss other important information that can influence your purchasing decisions. Numbers without context can be very deceiving. Remember, there are plenty of fake reviews trying to steal your money. Quantitative data is important, but it shouldn’t be the only tool on your utility belt. Analyzing Qualitative Data Qualitative data is all about discovering patterns. Identifying patterns clarifies the numbers and percentages and helps you understand why a company, product, or service is rated the way it is. It takes more time and effort than just looking at the numbers, but it’s the only way to get the full picture. Look for patterns. Patterns indicate consistency in a product, service, or company. When reading through customer reviews, make note of themes that are mentioned by multiple people in both the positive and negative reviews. If multiple reviews mention customer service, it indicates the quality of the business’s employee training. If reviews discuss a malfunctioning part, you can infer there are some manufacturing issues with the product. The more reviews mention a positive or negative attribute, the more reliable the pattern becomes. However, don’t forget to keep the numbers in mind when deciphering patterns. If you notice a negative pattern in the reviews, but it’s only a small percentage of people that experience the issue, then the law of averages indicates you’re still okay to move forward with a purchase. If you find a particularly positive or negative review, but don’t see the same themes in any other reviews, that usually indicates a one-off experience. Bad companies have good days, and good companies have bad days. If a complaint or compliment only appears once or twice, remember to look at it in context. One negative experience in thousands is less significant than one negative experience in ten. Read company responses. Most review sites allow companies to publicly respond to reviews. These responses can provide valuable insight into the company that should not be overlooked. When reading through company responses, ask yourself the following questions: Are all the responses the same? Many companies have a planned response they use when responding to reviews. This makes sense in situations where the company is trying to communicate the same steps to a large group of people, like if there’s a known manufacturing error or if the company has a specific way of getting a refund. However, if a company is just copying and pasting the same response to every review, that tells you the company is more interested in saying it responded than actually addressing the issue. Does the response address the specific things mentioned in the review? Sometimes companies will respond to reviews, but not actually address anything in the review itself. This is another indication that the company cares more about showing they responded that resolving any problems experienced by the customer. Does the response provide a clear plan of action? Some companies are great at providing a sympathetic response to a negative experience, but they don’t address how to resolve the issue. The best companies will offer a refund, discount on future purchases, discuss plans to keep the issues from recurring, etc. The more data you analyze, the more knowledge you have, and the better decision you can make. Now that you know how to spot the villains, and are armed with useful tools for your utility belt, it’s time to suit up and get to work. 3. Don Your Cape: Which Type of Review Hero Are You? CUT TO THE REVIEW SUPERHERO’S HEADQUARTERS Armed with knowledge, our team stands before an array of capes, body armor, tools, and other implements crucial to establishing their new identities as online review superheroes. They suit up. Think of a reviews repository — such as Amazon, Yelp, or Best Company — as a living representation of the quality of companies, products, and services, maintained by a group of diverse heroes willing to share their voices with the world. It truly takes a village to present a full mosaic that accurately represents what a company offers. So where do you fit into the world of reviews? While each of us is unique, it can be helpful to find common patterns and self-identify our traits as consumers as we make purchasing decisions and use our voices to influence others. In general, reviewers can represent a number of categorized personas with varying motivations and objectives. For the purposes of this article, we’ve created four avatars based on author Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework made prominent by her New York Times bestseller, The Four Tendencies, and embraced by enthusiasts worldwide. Over three million people have taken the 10-minute quiz. The best part about Rubin’s framework is that it provides practical guidance, not just observation like some other personality tests. Once you know your Tendency, you can channel your unique attributes — which are superpowers, really — to analyze reviews in a way that is productive to your purchasing experience and to write reviews when it aligns with your values. Suiting Up: An Application of Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies To help you identify which of the Four Tendencies you resonate with the most, Rubin’s guiding question is as much a matter of motivation as personality: How do you respond to expectations, both internal and external? Obligers, the most common Tendency (41 percent of people are Obligers, according to page 8 in Rubin’s book), meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. For example, an Obliger consistently meets work deadlines but struggles to complete New Year’s resolutions. Questioners (24 percent) question and investigate all outer and inner expectations and comply only with ones they deem truly justifiable. Upholders (19 percent) readily meet both outer and inner expectations. Rebels (17 percent) resist all expectations. No Tendency is better or worse than another. But understanding yours can help you create the conditions that will help you become the hero you want to be in your own life: how to best accomplish your goals, interact with others, and create change. As promised, we’ll walk you through how your Tendency empowers you to best represent yourself as a consumer in the world of reviews. And if you’re reading this as a brand proponent or other business professional, these insights on expectation-based behavior can impactfully inform your efforts to solicit reviews from customers and clients. Obligers Tendency overview: You prioritize other people’s expectations of you over your expectations for yourself. You identify with these statements: It’s hard for me to tell people “no.” I’ll do something to be a good role model, even if it’s not something that I’d do for myself. Unless someone is enforcing a deadline, it’s hard for me to get work done. How to approach writing reviews: As an obliger, you get things done with accountability to others, so you’re likely to respond well to a company prompting you to leave a review — especially if it’s a live person who asks. Obliger reviews are important because they’re often willing to share even an average customer experience to do their duty, bringing balance to the extremes. They don’t need to be driven by the need to share an extraordinarily good or bad experience. Even if you haven’t been charged directly to leave a review, think about all the parties depending on you: potential customers who could avoid a bad experience when they hear what you have to say; potential customers who could have their lives improved by a product or service; an amazing company that deserves the positive feedback. What’s in it for you: Fulfilling a sense of duty to your community. Approval from your relationships and networks is important to you, and contributing your voice to the conversation around a company, product, or service fills that need. Real-life application: Review site features like upvoting, reviewer profiles, and company responses can provide validation for leaving reviews as they relate to community. And the social rewards of review-writing can pique the interest of obligers and non-obligers alike. In a case study of the online market for volunteer reviewers, researchers found patterns that suggest that social image and influence, like a detailed profile and the opportunity to have your reviews upvoted, can drive consumers to leave reviews. Questioners Tendency overview: You resist things that seem arbitrary or inefficient, and all expectations must become an inner expectation for you to agree to something. You identify with these statements: I’ll comply only if you convince me why. It really bothers me when things are unfair or arbitrary. I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework. How to approach writing reviews: You may question multiple aspects of customer reviews, including the validity of other peoples’ reviews and why you should write your own. But you are driven by information, so focus on the specific content of reviews in your approach. Is there a particular company that has abysmal reviews that don’t represent your experience at all? The new information you provide in your own reviews is an important addition to that company’s review profile. It swings the other way too: if you question the rave reviews received by a company you were treated poorly by, all the more reason for you to share that experience. As you seek to convey your experience with a company accurately and efficiently, be extremely specific in your feedback. Whether it’s a one-star or five-star review to highlight the extremes or a two-star or three-star review to drown out any perceived exaggerations by others, detailed justifications for your rating provide the most valuable information for customers and the company itself. What’s in it for you: Knowing you’ve brought balance to the force. Even if you still question the value of reviews overall, you do trust yourself. Adding your voice to the mix can only improve the “system” you question, especially where money and value is concerned. Real-life review hero: Before he started writing reviews, runner Eric Barber was constantly reviewing and recommending shoes to customers at the running shoe store where he worked. Now as a shoe-reviewing blogger, he thrives on feedback from comparison blog posts and other reviews — even when he’s singing a different tune from other reviewers. “I try to correct the record of unfair reviews when I disagree,” Barber explains. “When you’re writing a review, there’s no right or wrong answers. It doesn’t matter what other reviewers are writing about a shoe, and it doesn’t matter what even my best friend thinks about a shoe.” Barber sees crucial value in offering his unique opinions, as getting the wrong shoes is the first step towards injury when you’re a runner. Plus, reviews can inspire companies to return to their labs to make improvements when necessary. The most gratifying experience for Barber was reading someone else’s review of a shoe on Amazon: "I got this shoe based on the recommendation of Steadyfoot [Barber’s blog].” A note on reading reviews: As a questioner, your desire for more and more information as you research a product, service, or company may sometimes lead to “analysis paralysis,” preventing you from making a decision. To combat this, keep these tips in mind before entering the rabbit-hole of never-ending reviews-binging: Be aware that even great companies will have some bad reviews. Take note of the date reviews were left; more recent reviews are the most relevant. Utilize the search function on review sites to filter reviews for your particular location or concern. For example, Best Company’s company profile pages (like this one for Lendio) each have a search bar where you can search for keywords like “[state],” “customer service,” or “return policy.” Upholders Tendency overview: You meet both inner and outer expectations and would describe yourself as disciplined. You identify with these statements: It’s important to me to meet other people’s expectations and my expectations for myself are just as important. I want to know what’s expected of me. I love crossing items off my to-do list. How to approach writing reviews: You work well on a schedule, so consider giving yourself a timeline or establishing a routine for review-writing after using a new product or service (for example, one week after delivery). As an upholder, you might sometimes be accused of being rigid in regards to embracing rules and best practices, and you may get annoyed while reading reviews that aren’t super detailed or otherwise helpful. Use this acknowledgment of people who have done a “bad” job of reviewing something (in your opinion) as well as a dearth of reviews in some cases as further validation that your own prompt, detailed reviews are much-needed. What’s in it for you: Validation of both your altruism and your self-interest. You may feel intrinsically and extrinsically compelled to write reviews, but no matter the motivation, you know you’re doing what’s expected of you as a consumer for the greater good. Real-life review hero: Stephanie Fatta, founder of beauty blog Beauty Brite and experienced reviewer, has been motivated personally and on behalf of causes she believes in. She was writing reviews for beauty products long before she developed sponsored partnerships with companies, driven in part by her commitment to cruelty-free and natural brands. “I started my blog in 2010 originally as a place to share homemade beauty recipes and reviews of products I purchased on my own,” Fatta explains. Since then, she has branded herself as a beauty expert and has been able to provide positive exposure to companies she believes in. Rebels Tendency overview: You resist all expectations and do what you want when you want. You identify with these statements: I want freedom to do something my own way. I’m not particularly persuaded by arguments such as, “People are counting on you.” If someone tells me I can’t do something, I think, “I’ll show you,” and I do it. How to approach writing reviews: You’re not going to employ a company just because someone says to, nor will you avoid a company with bad reviews necessarily. And if you don’t want to write a review, you’re not going to write a review because a company asks you to or because we say you should, and you wouldn’t do it even if your mom begs you to. So instead of making this a matter of expectation, think of reviews in terms of identity, resistance, or reward. What specific products, services, or companies appeal to your identity as a person and that you’d actually enjoy reviewing? You can be picky when it comes to writing reviews because it does take some time and effort. So review only companies that you believe in 100 percent. Review as an act of resistance by contradicting what someone else said. Be the one person who says the unpopular opinion on either end of the spectrum. Plus, as a rebel, it’s possible you approached your initial purchase in an unconventional way, so you likely have some interesting consumer insights to share. Consider the personal rewards of becoming a top reviewer of a website. What’s in it for you: Self-empowerment and clout. You validate your own identity as a rebel by speaking out when your voice goes against the grain. And you can gain clout as a super reviewer whose opinion is highly valued by customers and companies. If that sounds like an out-of-reach aspiration, think again. Real-life review hero: Chris Cade has been part of Amazon’s invitation-only review program for the past ten years and has found a way to establish his personal brand as a reviewer to his personal and professional benefit. Cade’s business, The Miracles Store, is in the personal development blogging niche, so reviews were a way to subsidize the purchases of products he already wanted. “What originally motivated me to write reviews was to be able to write off my book and movie purchases as business expenses,” he explains. “I would purchase a book or movie, review it on my blog, and then copy the review onto Amazon.” And now? “I continue to review products because I am an Amazon Vine Voice,” Cade says. He’s reviewed everything from socks to Bose wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and a 3-D printer. 4. Find your Online Review Sidekick: BestCompany.com CUT TO THE ONLINE REVIEW LANDSCAPE Capes waving, our heroes stand above the searching crowd, ready to swoop down and protect them from the review baddies’ schemes. Meanwhile, back at HQ, a sidekick mans the supercomputer, providing insights and other assistance as needed. Every hero needs a sidekick, and in the online review space, Best Company can be that sidekick. Best Company’s mission is simple: to become the most trusted review site. Period. To do this, we strive for the following: Publish accurate company rankings and honest consumer reviews. Educate companies on ways they can improve. Provide insight for consumers on what separates good companies from the best. Best Company consciously avoids and preempts many of the pitfalls common to the online review space. Businesses cannot pay for top-ranking spots on bestcompany.com, nor can they unduly suppress negative reviews that pass our rigorous review moderation process. Every customer review on bestcompany.com has been verified and linked with an actual person. And while Best Company may be compensated for affiliate relationships, rankings are determined by verified customer reviews and nothing else. The result? A truly objective review site that compares businesses on their merit and on the customer experience. Have you had an experience with a company that you want to share? That you feel will benefit others? Well, consider this your bat signal: start reviewing here. This article was made possible by significant contributions from Best Company writers Rebecca Graham and Whitney Troxel.
This article is co-authored with Kaitlyn Short and Sarah Sherren. (If you're here for our giveaway, here's a shortcut.) Think about the last time you scrolled through social media. Did you stop to watch a video? If you did, you understand how powerful video is for sharing experiences and connecting with people, from a great recipe to a toddler's first steps. Creating a video review for a product or service you've received can amplify your experience and help others choose good companies. We all wish we'd known more about 2020 before it happened, right? What does a good video review look like? Check out our video customer review parody for 2020, then scroll for the results of our 2020 review giveaway contest. We asked what reviewers thought of the year 2020 and they shared their honest opinions and experiences with this year. The winners of our review contest are Meghan and Kenneth! Read their reviews below: Customer Review: Meghan from Gilbert, Arizona "It started off great. And then COVID. For a while, I had the same attitude that most other people had: I just wanted 2020 to be over. As if the year ending would solve all my problems. But that is surely not the case. After realizing that the year I was living in didn’t matter, I came to accept that even though the hardships weren’t going to end anytime soon, I had the power to decide what my year would look like. I decided that even though sucky things were happening around me, and sometimes to me, I didn’t have to let it ruin my year, my month or my day. I decided to be happy, to progress, and to love 2020 for the good things instead of the bad. My family relationship grew stronger. I found out who my real friends were. And most importantly, I found myself in places I never would have looked before all the hardships of 2020. So, all in all, 2020 was a great year for me. Was it 5 stars? Nope. But 4 stars is a very reliable rating. 2020 was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. And I can’t wait to see what progress I get to make in 2021. I hope 2021 is kinder to you." Customer Review: Kenneth from Orem, Utah "READ BEFORE PURCHASE! So I know that a lot of the reviews for this are pretty negative, but you have to understand that this product is 100% targeted toward a specific group of people.. introverts! 2020 is seriously the best thing introverts could get for themselves. With 2020, I was able to avoid every single awkward family event I didn't want to attend without having them pressure me to come anyway. I was also able to have a reason to not talk to people at the store without seeming like a jerk. I even managed to get my work to think that they should "let" me work from home as if that wasn't what I wanted all along haha. Seriously though, if you want a get-out-of-jail free card for all those in-person events that no introvert wants to be stuck doing, 2020 is the thing for you! Just one thing.. make sure you stock up on toilet paper in advance if you want the 0 stress experience. It's finally time that we can live life how we want to.. comfortable! No more "oh you just need to meet more people and socialize".. now it's "oh yeah you should probably stay home alone", it's great!" Reviews of The Year 2020 Reviewers left their opinion and rating of the year 2020 in our review contest. See what more reviewers said and leave a review of your own. See More Reviews The contest ended on December 20, 2020. How do I make a good video review? Preparing for your video review will help you create a valuable resource for other shoppers and companies. Use the following tips to prepare and create a successful video review. Setting First, consider the setting. It includes background noise, your physical location, lighting, and camera placement. The setting of your video review will affect how much viewers focus on the content of what you say. Some background images, like political ones, can affect how seriously viewers will consider your review. Background noise makes it harder to hear what you're saying. Having good lighting and a steady camera provides viewers with a clear image. These setting aspects also make it easier to establish a connection and build trust with viewers. Your opinion and customer experience matters, so be thoughtful when choosing your setting so that viewers can focus on what you have to say. Choose a quiet place. Remove distractions from the background (e.g. noise, political images). Have a steady hand or use a stand to keep your phone steady. Make sure your head and shoulders are visible to the screen. Adjust lighting as needed for a clear image, and avoid sitting in front of a window. Technology Almost everyone has a story about technical difficulties, so spend a few minutes before your review time double checking that everything is in order. This will help ensure a smooth process with a well-captured video review. Be sure that you're connected to power or have enough battery. Check that your internet connection or phone service is working. Run a sound and camera test to ensure that both will work. Content The most important part of your review is the content. What you include in your review can affect prospective customers as they decide which company to work with. Being thoughtful about your experience as you decide what to include that will make your review valuable to the company and people researching their options. Reflect on your experience with the company. Be genuine and honest about your experience. Think about what customers like you would want to know. Delivery The delivery of your review will build connection and trust with viewers, which will increase the impact of your review. Approach it as if you were talking to a friend who is trying to find a good company to work with. Make eye contact with the camera on your phone or computer. Speak clearly. If you're completing a review with another person (e.g. spouse, partner), be sure that both of you speak and are visible. Avoid reading from a script. Why make a video review? In the digital age, reviews have become a social standard for company trustworthiness. The collective customer’s voice is much more reliable than any company advertisement or commercial. Online reviews are becoming just as important as recommendations from friends and family members. According to Mdgadvertsing.com, “88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.” Consumers want to know about the best products and services from the most reliable sources. The question is where do we go? You will find many review sites in your pursuit for the most trustworthy information. Our goal is to make BestCompany.com the most trusted review site. We do so by not allowing companies to pay us money to improve their rank, and by also moderating every single consumer review to ensure that it is real and accurate. Best Company has recently taken another step towards becoming the best review site by introducing video reviews. Based on a recent study, “Four times as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it.” These review videos will be instrumental in helping other customers make the best purchasing decisions. Consumers often write reviews because they want to share their notable experience with other prospective customers. Best Company’s video reviews aim to transform your written experience into a face-to-face testimonial that will improve your online influence. You can improve the quality and reach of your review by turning your written reviews into video reviews. You can become an influencer that others trust. Become a relevant source for recommendations by linking these videos to your social media platforms. With video reviews, you have the opportunity to participate in authentic advertising and champion the brands you love. You can promote business small and large with values similar to yours. How do I get started? Creating a video review with Best Company only takes a few minutes. Start by leaving a written review on BestCompany.com. If your review is chosen for a video review, you'll receive an email invite to schedule time to call one of our review moderators. Share Your Experience Leaving a review on BestCompany.com will help consumers like you find the best companies to work with. Leave a Review All video reviews will have to meet BestCompany.com guidelines before they will be published. Even if your video review isn’t posted to our site, any feedback you provide will be helpful to the company you reviewed.
This article is co-authored with Madison Smith, Kalicia Bateman, and James Scott Belyeu. After conducting a recent survey about online consumer research, we discovered that most people spend two hours researching an important product or service like a credit card before they make a purchase. Two hours. You could have used that time to embark on a mini road trip, take a power nap, tackle your to-do list, or whatever you might do with an extra two hours. We understand that your time and energy are precious — especially when it comes to product research. Finding the right brand for the right price among hundreds, sometimes even thousands of options, can make the online research process long and confusing. That’s where we come in. As a company fueled by online research, customer reviews, and company comparisons, we’ve identified the best strategies for improving your product or service research. We’ve broken down these strategies into three easy steps, so you can find products that better meet your needs while cutting down your research time: Identify your needs Explore and compare your options Make a decision Each of the following steps will refer to the online research involved in signing up for a credit card as an example. Let’s get started! Step One: Identify your needs Before you jump into researching brands and products, it’s essential to understand the industry you’ll be searching in and then identify and narrow down your own needs. Understand the industry Knowing where to start when choosing a credit card, for example, can be difficult, as there are a lot of factors that come into play: interest rates, fees, rewards, credit limits, credit scores, payment schedules, types of card issuers (bank, credit union, or online lender), and so on. That’s a lot of things to consider. If you don’t understand what these factors are and how they work, you risk taking too much time figuring out which card to get; or choosing a card on a whim that may not be the best fit. Therefore, it’s essential to take some time and do a little bit of homework to understand the industry: lookup types of credit card rewards, find definitions for industry jargon, determine what the pros and cons of online credit card lenders are, and the list can go on. More than anything, understanding the industry will not only make you more informed, but it will help you more easily determine what you want in a credit card because you will understand all the different factors and options available. Narrow down your needs Once you have a better idea of how the industry works, it is essential to consider your needs. Consider asking yourself the following questions (which can apply to a variety of products or services, not just credit cards): Why do I need a credit card? How will I be using my credit card? How much am I willing to spend on this credit card? Asking yourself these questions, in addition to applying your new-found industry knowledge, will help you save time later on in the research process. Consider prices Part of your needs is determining how much you are willing to spend on a product or service, or in this case, a credit card. Maybe you’re like us, and you just look for the lowest price available. While this may seem like the best way to save money, it really might not be the best approach. National News platform, Today, reminds consumers that, “...the goal is the best value for your money, not necessarily the lowest price. A smart consumer looks for a good, reliable product that’s reasonably priced.” Your needs will inform you how much you will need to spend. Your industry knowledge will help you know the best value product or brand, providing an opportunity to make a budget for yourself, saving you from wasting time considering options outside of your price range. While considering various prices, you can also take this as an opportunity to consult your budget and see if any changes should be made. Perhaps you may need to add a little bit more to your budget or, if you’re really lucky, you may have overestimated costs and can even lower your budget. For future reference, download this checklist. Step Two: Explore and compare your options Now that you have identified your needs, it’s time to start exploring and comparing your company options. Research companies More often than not, you’ll find a wide range of companies that offer the service or product that you are searching for. Although it’s great to have some options, having too many company options can make it difficult to choose just one. Here are a few steps that can help you narrow down your list of companies: For future reference, download this checklist. If you still have several companies on your list, the next step is to look at reviews. Utilize reviews A 2019 Brightlocal consumer review survey found that “the average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business.” The same survey also uncovered that “only 53 percent of people would even consider using a business with less than four stars.” Additionally, in our recent survey, approximately 50 percent of respondents said that reviews sway their opinions most of the time about important products or services that they were considering for purchase. Clearly, more people are turning to reviews before using a company’s services or products than ever before, and the overall importance of reviews is only increasing. Reviews, especially ones from a trustworthy review website, can provide valuable insight that you simply can’t get from a company’s main website, social media, or sales team. And, when it comes to company comparisons, reviews can help you determine which company will best align with your needs. It’s no surprise that reviews are powerful. Many people who do online service/product research want some level of third party assurance that the company they plan to choose has a trustworthy reputation. Thus, people use reviews to learn from other consumers they relate to and to ensure that they don’t make the mistake of choosing the wrong company. If you haven’t yet included reviews in your usual company-research process, now is the time to start. You may be surprised by how much reviews will influence your final decision. Here are a few ways you can make sure you get the most of the reviews you read: Find at least one or two review websites you can trust. Many companies only feature positive reviews that they bought from customers on their website, so looking at those reviews alone won't be very helpful. Instead, try searching for a trusted third-party review website. Third-party review websites can help you see more honest, organic reviews. Some review websites operate under unethical terms in which companies can pay for better reviews and a better ranking. So, it’s important that you do the research to find a website you can trust. When looking for a trustworthy review website, make sure to check if the website has well-known companies listed. If you don’t see any companies you recognize, chances are the website won’t provide you with enough helpful reviews or information. Next, look for a disclaimer on how the website ranks companies and how they obtain reviews for each company. This type of clarity shows that the website isn’t trying to hide anything. Once you see a disclaimer, check to see if the website shows negative reviews for companies, especially those featured at the top of the industry lists. Lastly, see if the website shows reviewers’ names, locations, and dates of each review, indicating that they are from real people. BestCompany.com is a trusted review website that helps consumers connect with companies that deserve their business. Visit our website to see the comprehensive overviews of each company along with verified customer reviews. Learn More Read several reviews for each company you are interested in. Once you find a review website you can trust, it’s time to start reading reviews. Make sure to read both positive and negative reviews for each company that you’re interested in. More likely than not, each company will have at least one negative review, especially if you’re looking at the right review websites. Read the most recent reviews first to get the most updated view of the company and how it operates. Good companies learn from past reviews and make changes to their operations based on customer feedback. Because of this, older reviews might reflect an outdated version of the company. It can be good to read some older reviews, but try to start off reading the most recent ones you can find. Some review websites allow you to see how companies respond to the reviews their customers leave. You’re in luck if the review website you are using has this feature. These responses can help you see how companies react and deal with negative feedback and how they treat their customers. Last but not least, take care of the weight you are giving the reviews you read. Be wary of the short and sweet reviews that give five stars but no other information. For example, a customer may leave a review about their credit card, outlining that they had a happy and satisfactory experience, and that’s it. Instead, look for reviews that offer more information about a customer’s experience, as this will give you more insight into the company, product, or service. Check out the examples below to learn about which types of reviews you should read and which types you should ignore: Note: This 2020 Capital One credit card review is featured on BestCompany.com Note: This 2017 Captial One credit card review is featured on BestCompany.com Find and write down common themes among the reviews you read. As you read through multiple reviews for each company, create a list of common themes you find. For instance, you might find that the majority of reviews you read highlight the company’s customer service values and initiatives. Finding common themes like this can help you learn specific pros and cons that you might not have seen from your earlier research. Other themes you should keep an eye out for include the company’s product/service affordability and its reputation and level of trustworthiness within the industry. Additionally, you’ll want to check to see if there are any common themes regarding product/service quality. Overall, each of these themes can help you narrow down the number of companies you’ll want to do business with. If you’re still back and forth between a few companies after reading customer reviews for each one, the next step you can take is to see what those in your close network have to say. Obtain recommendations Reviews can help you see what customers really think about a company or service, but they may not have your complete trust since people you don’t know write them. If you don’t want to base your decision entirely on online reviews, that’s okay. But you may want to take some time to talk to trusted friends or family members. Let’s go back to the credit card example. Most of the adults in your close circle likely have at least one credit card. If you are in the market for a credit card, whether it be your first card or an additional card, chances are, someone in your family or friend group will have a recommendation for you based on their own experiences. Recommendations from those you trust can help you narrow your list of companies even further, which is great, but keep in mind that not all recommendations may work for you. In regard to credit cards, a certain type of credit card might be perfect for the person in your friend group who has an excellent credit score and is only looking for a card with the best travel rewards, but it might not be a good fit for you and your financial situation. After all, each credit card has different rewards and requirements, as well as being tailored to certain credit scores and consumers. That being said, recommendations can still be useful. They can give you a good idea of what being a customer for a specific company is like and what you can expect from their product or service. But remember that just because a certain credit card or another service/product works for one person doesn’t mean that it will best suit your needs. Step Three: Make a decision Make a decision that will last The first thing to keep in mind when making a purchasing decision is determining if the service or product is a short-term or long-term solution. For example, credit cards are the most useful and profitable the longer you have them, as you can build your credit history and benefit more from certain rewards. Thus, a credit card is generally a long-term purchase versus a short-term purchase. When making your purchasing decision, think back to when you identified your needs and budget, and make sure that they align with the product, service, and/or company you have chosen. Then, evaluate if your decision is the best value, not just the lowest price. Carefully considering these two factors again before making your final decision can help you find greater lasting success. Carefully considering your needs and the value of the purchase you are making can bring the most important elements of your research to the surface, allowing you to decide what will be the best for you. Analyze the pros and cons Now that all the hard research is done, it’s time to make a mental list of all the reasons that would ultimately lead you to make a purchase. Using the credit card example again, let’s say that getting cash back is your priority. Card one has a 24 percent APR and no cashback advantages, versus card two, which has a 29.9 percent APR with a 3 percent cashback incentive. When you break down the information, each option’s advantages and disadvantages are reasonably apparent. You now know what will work for you and what won’t. Outlining the pros and cons doesn’t have to take long, but it can help you quickly assess whether your decision is the best for you. Save time with brand loyalty Once you have found the ideal product that will check off most of your boxes, staying loyal to a brand or service/product could be in your best interest. Finding a brand or service/product that worked for you took a decent amount of time and energy, so don’t let that all go to waste. If you are pleased with a purchase you have made, you can use that initial trust and satisfaction when making future purchasing decisions, saving you more time and energy. Our survey data indicates that consumers spend an average of one hour on product research when they return to a company they have used before — this is half of the average time that consumers dedicate to doing initial service/product research. Plus, you won’t have to worry about whether or not you’re going to like the service/product or if it will work for you because you already know that it does. It’s a win-win! On the flip side, what happens if you don’t love your final purchasing decision? It happens, and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. First, check out the return policy or customer satisfaction guarantees to see if you can get your money back. Then, refer back to the product research funnel again with your new-found insights. Yes, jumping back into doing some research may not be ideal, but at least you have a much better idea of what doesn’t work for you, making the process easier. Initially, the process may take some trial and error, but rest assured that going into your product research with a game plan will save you time and make you a smarter consumer. For future reference, download this checklist. The bottom line To ensure you don’t forget all the wisdom that you’ve gained, here is a quick recap of our strategies that will ensure better, faster online service/product research: Identify your needs — Understand what exact pain points you are trying to solve through a specific product or service. Compare your options — Narrow down your list of reputable options through online resources such as company websites, product comparison overviews, and customer reviews. Make the final decision — Make a purchase if it aligns with your needs, and utilize the brand in the future to streamline your product research process. We wish you the best in your journey to find whatever is on your wishlist. Remember to use BestCompany.com, where we have over 290,000 customer reviews to help you make the best purchasing decision. To help get you started, check out some of our most popular categories here. Learn More
In the first part of this review analysis series, I covered the topic of review validity. The second part of this series focuses on the importance of review usefulness and review ethics. How useful are user reviews, really? And how can you tell if they're generated ethically? User reviews can be incredibly polarizing and if you're not wary, you may fail to notice that a review's content doesn't match its star rating. The problem: Inaccurate or irrelevant reviews Have you ever returned from a brutal encounter with customer service representatives and warned all your loved ones to stay away from the company? Perhaps you went a step further and wrote a negative review online. This process can be a cathartic experience to deal with feelings of dissatisfaction. Of the 24,022 reviews analyzed by my company, 71 percent were either one-star or five-star reviews (out of five). Most reviews are the result of an emotional response from consumers used to either reward or punish the company. Consumers rarely leave a review simply out of a desire to inform their peers. Star ratings can be misleading. The score often represents only one portion of the consumer’s experience, as few sites provide a score for each aspect of the consumer experience. Additionally, the ratings associated with a company or product do not always reflect the sentiment expressed in the review. A one-star rating may praise a company, misleading reviewers who are skimming through. The content can be equally confusing. For example, maybe it focuses on one aspect of a company or product rather than providing a holistic view of the customer’s actual experience. Or, consumers may use reviews to complain about negative customer service experiences rather than the actual products or services. Polarized reviews, either glowing endorsements or vengeful warnings, can be very confusing for consumers researching companies. Additionally, scale ratings often reflect only one aspect of a company and provide little insight into actual consumer concerns. The solution When you're busy, it's easy to read a few reviews and consider a product researched. It’s even easier to base your decision entirely on the star rating. According to a BrightLocal study, the overall star rating of local businesses was the most important factor to the largest portion of consumers, trumping both sentiment and quantity of reviews. Additionally, almost 90 percent of consumers read 10 or fewer reviews before making a decision about a company or product; over half of consumers read six or fewer. To truly understand a clear picture of a company, follow these three tips: Focus on the content of reviews, not just the star rating.The convenience of relying primarily on star ratings is tempting. However, you should take the time to look at the distribution of reviews. Are ratings primarily only very high or very low? Overly emotional reviews, though common, may provide little help in the research process. Less emotional, middle ratings often provide a clearer picture and should be given more weight. Read multiple reviews.Reading only a few reviews is insufficient to assess a company. To make the best decision, you should find out what multiple customers are saying about the company, ideally from multiple sources. Find specific customer concerns about products and services.Identify the specific concerns customers have with a particular company or product and find out how many customers have the same concern. Is the main issue customer service? Is it an isolated incident or a frequent issue? The content of reviews often reveals more than the star ratings do. The problem: Incentivized reviews Businesses primarily care about revenue. A Harvard study found that a one-star increase on a Yelp rating led to a surprising 5 percent to 9 percent increase in revenue for independent restaurants. Negative reviews also impact businesses. How companies get reviews and which reviews are published are critical pieces of information for consumers. Companies incentivize customers to write reviews. You may have a chance to win a special product or even a cash prize if you leave a review for a company, but that opens the door for fake reviews. The same is true for third-party sites — many frequently sell advertising space to generate revenue. Some review sites will even initiate partnerships with companies that they believe are top performers within a given industry just to sell those companies consumer contact information when users visit their pages. Review sites must be careful of bias. Unethical sites will do whatever it takes to maintain a client relationship, even if it means generating or filtering reviews that aren’t authentic so a company can maintain a high ranking. Some websites will create a feedback gate that sorts positive consumer reviews as “published reviews” and negative ones as “unpublished feedback,” thereby skewing the ranking system. The solution Spotting unethical review generation practices can be tricky. However, wise consumers can look out for the following warning signs: Distrust companies with only perfect scores.Be wary of websites that only have positive reviews for top-ranked companies. Combat this by looking at reviews from multiple sources. Using a third-party review as a supplemental source of information will provide less biased information. Learn how companies generate reviews.Learn more about the review generation process. Does the company offer any type of incentive (money, gift cards, discounts) for reviews? This is unethical and can lead to biased or poorly written reviews. Distrust companies that bribe customers to write reviews. Look for advertising disclosures on review sites.Just like the companies they highlight, review sites care about profits. These sites often generate revenue by proving leads to top companies. Many review sites have clearly posted advertising disclosures, revealing that they may be compensated by companies listed on their sites. Be skeptical of review sites that do not clearly post how they receive their revenue. The Federal Trade Commission provides information on endorsement guides here.
The rise of online reviews has placed power in the hands of consumers. According to BrightLocal, 93 percent of consumers read reviews to decide if a business is good or bad, and 85 percent trust them just as much as personal recommendations. Consumers can now rely more on the objective opinions and reviews of their peers rather than glossy advertisements and smooth-talking salespeople. While consumers have clearly shifted their trust from companies to their peers, corporations have still found deceptive ways to trick consumers with fake reviews. In 2013, New York's attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman conducted an investigation into fraudulent online review practices. After creating a fictitious New York-based yogurt shop, his office discovered the darker side of the review industry. The investigation revealed a sad truth — for a price, companies could simply buy a strong online reputation rather than earn it. Consumers must remember that although reviews are a powerful resource, they can also be used to manipulate and misdirect unsuspecting researchers. Learning how to identify and ignore deceptive online review practices will help consumers accurately determine which companies truly deserve their trust. This article contains several strategies and tips to help consumers effectively spot the wolves from among the sheep — to distinguish between resourceful reviews and the fake reviews that are intended to deceive them. The problem The practice of crafting and posting fake reviews has been dubbed astroturfing. Astroturf is used on many football and soccer fields because it looks great and is easier to maintain than normal grass. From a distance, it looks like authentic, growing grass, but upon closer inspection, you can tell that it’s synthetic. These astroturf reviews look and sound like the real thing and can fool anyone without careful examination. The problem is that authenticity is the lifeblood of a review’s value. We want to know the real experiences of real people. Period. Unfortunately, writing fake reviews is far too easy. Freelance writers can often find jobs on networks such as Craigslist that pay as much as $8 per review. Bots can be programmed to leave automated reviews of companies that can be either glowing or slanderous. This makes identifying the phonies all the more difficult. How concerned should you be about astroturf reviews? If you take your car to the mechanic for an oil change and it takes a little longer than the online reviews said it would, some mild frustration would be the only consequence. But consider how fake reviews may impact more expensive purchasing decisions. What if a home security company has purchased hundreds of positive but fake reviews to bolster its image? Unaware of its fraudulent review practices, you put your trust in a seemingly reputable company and sign a contract. You’re now legally bound to make monthly payments to this deceptive company for the next three years. You have made a significant financial investment into a bad product wrapped in pretty packaging. Unfortunately, this scenario occurs all too frequently. The solution The key is to research unbiased review websites that have the consumers' best interests in mind. My company, for example, has a rigorous review moderation process to weed out low-quality or fraudulent reviews. From a pool of 24,022 submitted reviews, there were 9,368 reviews that did not make it through our review validation process. That’s 28 percent of the total reviews submitted. Careful review moderation isn’t a cure-all for catching fake reviews, but it certainly helps. Here are some steps you can take to spot the fakes: Look for verified customer reviewsIncreasingly, companies that aggregate reviews on their websites are adopting systems requiring reviewers to validate that they are an actual customer of the company they are reviewing (see Amazon’s “Verified Purchase”). This is typically one of the safest ways to know that a customer review is legitimate. Watch out for botsBots are software applications that write automated reviews on review websites. You can often identify bot-written reviews through the following indicators: Links within the review text that refer you to a different product or service A review username that includes a strange mix of numbers and letters Marketing language Mentioning the entire name of the product Trust your instinctsIf the review feels phony, there’s a good chance that it is. Is the review overly praiseworthy or angry? Does it contain language that a typical person wouldn’t use? Does it lack detail? Does the tone feel too formal or artificial? If you conscientiously read reviews, you will become even better at sensing when a review is fake. Trust your feelings. Beware of reviews or review aggregators that publish reviews with any of the above items. This may indicate that the review is unreliable or fraudulent and that the review website does not have a strong review moderation process. In my next article, I’ll share tips on identifying inaccurate or irrelevant reviews as well as identifying incentivized reviews.