There’s plenty of data that show consumers rely heavily on ratings and reviews to help them make purchase decisions. Dozens of surveys and studies affirm this.
Businesses are starting to become much more sophisticated about online reviews as well. They understand the importance of these consumer trends and are increasingly asking customers provide feedback and review them on Yelp, TripAdvisor and other key local sites.
Tools such as GetFiveStars, Refgo and Customer Lobby help local businesses obtain and syndicate consumer reviews. Amazon and vertical sites such as OpenTable and Hotels.com solicit reviews from verified buyers.
But what happens when the tools and growing sophistication of local businesses results in what might be called “review inflation”?
This morning I was doing research on local electricians (for myself) and came across the above page on Yelp. There were at least 10 listings that had five stars and a comparable number of reviews. I had to go to the second page before finding an electrician that wasn’t as highly rated.
Either these are all great local businesses or these businesses have gotten very good at generating positive reviews — or both. I’m not suggesting that these reviews are fraudulent. However Yelp becomes less useful when there’s less variation among ratings.
A user has to spend a lot more time reading reviews in depth or go to “secondary criteria” or filters to make a decision. Of course I could pick three electricians, call and get price quotes, etc. That’s the “old school” approach.
This “review inflation” as I’m calling it won’t happen across all business categories. But it will likely be more common over time. The best and most digitally savvy local businesses will have mostly positive reviews, making it hard for consumers to use sites like Yelp to differentiate them quickly.
This becomes a potentially bigger problem for mobile users unless proximity becomes the chief variable after business quality.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe:
- Over time more businesses will be favorably reviewed as I’ve suggested?
- If that happens, it will diminish the value of review sites like Yelp?
- That more “selectively solicited” reviews will start to game the system?