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New study investigates online reviews - makes surprising discoveries

By dpreview staff on Jul 15, 2013 at 22:01 GMT

Online product reviews are a huge part of our lives these days, and often, they're the nearest thing we get to a 'hands on experience' before we buy something. Extremely positive or negative reviews can greatly alter the perception of a product in the mind of an undecided customer.

So how do we know that the reviews we're reading are honest? The authors of an MIT study entitled 'Deceptive Reviews: The Influential Tail' have looked at several sites which feature customer reviews, including Amazon, but focused on an unnamed private label apparel retailer. Crucially, this unnamed retailer does not link reviews to a purchase of that item - i.e., you can write a review of something even if you didn't buy it.

What they found is that 'approximately 5% of the product reviews are written by customers for whom there is no record they have purchased the item. These reviews are significantly more negative on average than the other 95% of the reviews for which there is a record that the customer previously purchased the item'.

It's no surprise that positive reviews lead to higher sales, but according to the study, negative reviews have a much more profound negative effect.

Online customer reviews have a huge impact on our perceptions of products, and can make a real difference to sales for an online retailer like Amazon.

In simple terms, if you're considering buying something which has ten five star ratings and a single one star rating, that single negative review could make you move the cursor away from 'buy now'. And if the review was dishonest, then you, and the online retailer, just lost out. 

The research team looked at the questionable 5% of reviews, and analyzed various characteristics including the length of the reviews, the content and the language and grammar that was used.

They found that fraudulent reviews 'tend to be longer [and are] more likely to contain details unrelated to the product'. The researchers also noticed that they were more likely to contain odd grammatical quirks like a prevalence of shorter words, and unnecessary multiple exclamation points.

Perhaps most interesting though, is where the team thinks these deceptive reviews came from. Their research suggests that they do not originate from a small band of 'rogue reviewers', or the agents of rival companies engaged in smearing other manufacturers' products ('shills' is a word you'll see used a lot in our own comments and forums) but from loyal, genuine customers, 'self-appointed brand managers' who are taking advantage of the review process to 'give feedback on the firm'.

Fanboys, in other words. 

The paper is long and very interesting - and far too nuanced to do justice in a short news article like this. We suggest you click here and read it for yourself. We give it five stars!!!!


If you'd like to leave your own scrupulously honest reviews of the products you own and love (or hate) don't forget that you can do so in our forums

Source: MIT

Comments

Total comments: 239
123
RichRMA
By RichRMA (9 months ago)

Forgetting the outright shills for a moment; some reviews from non-professionals are solid, well-researched pieces. But some are driven by emotion, by someone who just bought a camera and is all excited to expound on it. Problem is, these reviews often ignore flaws, because the person doing it perceives admitting there are flaws indicates their own judgement is poor. Having said that, it is apparent, however, that major problems with camera equipment are most often discovered by users and NOT professional reviewers who (inexplicably) often miss them.

Comment edited 43 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (9 months ago)

Buyer actually feel he needs to find an excuse not to spend money on a camera(unconsciously), so even though fake reviews looks fake , there's a reason to rethink the decision to buy a camera.

2 upvotes
citizenlouie
By citizenlouie (9 months ago)

Just use common sense when reading reviews. If the review contains a lot of hyperboles and lack of objectivity, then I usually discount it more than the one that's more impartial and honest. Another thing I find is, some people are so happy about their purchase, which is nice they rave about their purchase, but please let us know what's the reference point. For example, some people say "it's the sharpest lens I have ever used." Which is nice, but how many lenses you have used is a very important criteria when people judge the quality of your review. Same can be said about negative reviews. I don't know if they're still teaching this in college, but when we do research (reading reviews is kind of like a purchase research), we need to know the credential of the person who wrote the article. An industry expert's words weigh more than someone who's merely very enthusiastic about the subject.

7 upvotes
star shooter
By star shooter (9 months ago)

I wonder how many reviews are written by the company themselves to boost sales! Heaps I betcha!! Whenever I want a review I search for the Yahoo Groups and join the various photography forums as that is where you get honest answers - good and bad. In print advertising it's the same. The reviewer make damn sure they give a biased report so as to not to hurt the feelings of their advertising client.

4 upvotes
Case98
By Case98 (9 months ago)

http://www.amazon.com/Sigma-200-500mm-Ultra-Telephoto-Nikon-Cameras/dp/B0013DAPNU

I found it shocking that these kind of reviews for this lens even existed. It seems like there should be something in place to stop that from happening. I don't think there was a single legitimate review out of all of them, and I spent a good 20 min. looking. There really are some pretty funny ones in there though (t-ball T, transporting via Sherpa).

0 upvotes
km25
By km25 (9 months ago)

I have found these rating systems to hit or miss. The issue I read about the D600 was true. I have also read about cameras/lens that get 5 stars that I know are over rated. I have even seen 5 stars for camera/lens that have yet to be released. I have see good stuff down rated.
You are receiving adivse from people that may or may not know from were they speak. They may have bias or agenda. See if Nikons realy have dust and oil. Then see if a fine company like Nikon, corrects the problem. Do not believe everything you read on the internet on face value. Make sure it is true !!!!! (hee hee).
I give the Article: Stars.

1 upvote
Paul B Jones
By Paul B Jones (9 months ago)

For information on products I prefer discussion forums to reviews. There's a "wisdom of the crowds" sort of thing that happens here on DPR. For example, the oil/dust issue on the Nikon D600 was flagged fairly quickly by a diverse bunch of posters and signalled a genuine problem. If one or two complainers or bad reviews pop up then I don't take it too seriously. When patterns of user comments appear over time, then I take notice.

4 upvotes
p88l
By p88l (9 months ago)

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/tornadoguard.png

2 upvotes
pcworth
By pcworth (9 months ago)

For the most part you can still get a good sense of a product with these reviews, but like everything else, you need to use more than one source.

It would be nice if there was an easier way to sort reviews by verified purchasers, because there are a lot of people opining on something they have never used.

I purchased the Lumix FZ200 when it first came out, but amazingly people were already "reviewing" the item even though it was not available for purchase anywhere. They simply read the specs and opined. Thankfully, Amazon deleted all of them when the camera finally went on sale.

On the subject of "reviews" it drives me nuts when websites post "reviews" that are nothing more than a restatement of the specs. This is one reason why I keep coming back to DPReview. At least the previews are more than just a list of specs.

2 upvotes
Deleted1929
By Deleted1929 (9 months ago)

What's more alarming is that people use online comments ( which is what we're talking about in therms of "reviews" ) as a basis for decision making.

Where, I wonder, does advice people like me give on forums to beginners sit in the scale of "trusted". Does the fact we post on DPR lend credence to us or take it away ? Does the number of posts we've made make a difference ? I keep hoping people are reading the advice and spotting the fanboys from the fools and people who are giving honest opinions. But are we all just over-ridden by one idiotic remark ( "my Nikon killed my cat" kind of thing :-) ) ?

Ho hum.

0 upvotes
skytripper
By skytripper (9 months ago)

Speaking for myself, I know better than to give too much weight to the judgment of a single anonymous reviewer on Amazon, for instance—although one does occasionally come across a reviewer who is obviously very knowledgeable about the product. The primary value of Amazon reviews is found in the aggregate. When there are many reviews of a product, and a preponderance of these reviews are 4-star and 5-star reviews, one has a much better indicator of the quality of the product than any single Amazon reviewer can provide. When there are few reviews of a given product, it's anybody's guess whether those reviewers have given the product a fair and knowledgeable evaluation. Buyer beware! One benefit of shopping at Amazon is that they make it very easy to return any product that the buyer finds unsatisfactory.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
6 upvotes
Boerseuntjie
By Boerseuntjie (9 months ago)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to spot the fake reviews.
I post them all the time...LOL

2 upvotes
TN Args
By TN Args (9 months ago)

You spot the badly faked ones.... LOL

0 upvotes
schufosi777
By schufosi777 (9 months ago)

I had to choose between the D600 and 6D and in the end the Amazon reviews made the difference. Nearly 30 percent of the D600 reviews were 3 or less mostly due the oil issue and a lot those with a 4 rating still complained of the oil issue but thought it was such a great camera they would assign it 4 anyway. Who want s to suffer from buyers remorse! The 6D had most 5 and 4 ratings and had no real issue to speak of. So I went with the Canon 6D.

1 upvote
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (9 months ago)

The best review is a LIVE and REAL LIFE review.

Good camera stores let you handle the merchandise.

But online and printed reviews are also good in equipping the interested parties prior to their sojourn to the camera shop, so the sales sharks won't pull the rug under them.

.

1 upvote
schufosi777
By schufosi777 (9 months ago)

Unfortunately handling the D600 will not reveal the oil spots on the sensor. Thats where reviews come in.

5 upvotes
Gully Foyle
By Gully Foyle (9 months ago)

But you have 4 exclamation marks at the end!!!!

Seriously though, fanboy-ism we encountered as well long before the internet and I think they're meant to live on. As long as there are products and people willing to buy, there will always be a "knowledgeable" person more than willing to give advice. Personally, I believe it all has to do with opinion and how people believe that theirs is the correct one. I can't see how anyone can get past this.

BTW, I'm quite sure it's "cursor" and not "curser". And it's not just my opinion! ;)

2 upvotes
massimogori
By massimogori (9 months ago)

You folks at Dpreview are in perfect position to change the balance. Just restart making reviews at decent pace.

3 upvotes
Gully Foyle
By Gully Foyle (9 months ago)

While the article certainly refers to sites like DPR, how your comment has any to do with that?

0 upvotes
jagge
By jagge (9 months ago)

lol that is so true, its a joke by now. The cams that are being revieved are very often not the important cams in the market, still tons of unfinished reviews and the time they take to finish anything is a joke.

what a dream job to be on staff, ceartainly it cant be stressfull

3 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (9 months ago)

@ jagge - you have no idea... on many levels. Go here:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews

And tell me we're taking it easy.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
lunaticois12
By lunaticois12 (9 months ago)

@ Barney - how about not mixing reviews and previews...You always do a good job but it's kind of misleading mixing proper reviews and unfinished previews on the main page...anyway 3 stars for that!!! ;)

7 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (9 months ago)

It's all review content, to be honest. Sometimes the only things separating the 'previews' from 'reviews' are a score and some additional sample images.

1 upvote
Gryfster
By Gryfster (9 months ago)

Maybe you should lower the bar a little on the reviews. For those of us who don't picture peep obsessively your preview is normally pretty close to the review by the time you add your first "preview updated with more sample images". I have yet to see dpreview markedly change its "first impressions" stance after that point (even for the D600 where you really should have - that was the first time I wondered if being owned by Amazon altered your findings).

BTW I'm not questioning your objectivity, I think I understand why it got a gold now at this point in time but I do remember thinking that the commenters had a point.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (9 months ago)

Common sense should prevail. Few things are so awful they are worthy of one star and equally few things are spectacularly great. In other words, if you run a Nikon fan club, read the 5 star reviews; if you're considering buying a Nikon, read the 3 and 4 star reviews.

Expensive items complicate things because many reviewers need to convince themselves they made a good decision but in general, people who don't rave about everything, who can spell and don't write stuff like "major fail" or "don't hate on it" will give a pretty clear picture.

It's worth noting that the big websites inevitably develop relationships with the manufacturers and distributors (I've been there). There's nothing sinister about this but it can get pretty chummy.

3 upvotes
Tape5
By Tape5 (9 months ago)

Everyone lies to me. My wife, my kids, my boss, my brothers and sisters. I just found out a few days ago that my father had a first wife before he married my mother and that they both lied to me for decades.

That is what we call education and experience , gradually finding out about all the lies. When you are a kid you are flooded with them, but it only gets marginally better as you get older.

I am happy to pay people to lie to me these days. If someone claims to volunteer the truth, I would rather run.

So bring it on all you gadget reviewers out there.

1 upvote
Bluephotons
By Bluephotons (9 months ago)

I wouldn't be so sure, you might as well be just an adopted kid.

1 upvote
T3
By T3 (9 months ago)

You have to take all these Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. They aren't gospel. And they are only one source of feedback or evaluation.

I also try to find a video review of products on Youtube. Those tend to be quite informative, and obviously if the video shows the reviewer with the product in his possession and using it or handling it, it's a lot less likely that it's a "fake" review from someone who hasn't even used the product. You're a lot less likely to find a "fake" review on Youtube where the product is no where in sight and the reviewer is claiming to have used it even though he hasn't. And, of course, if the reviewer is known and on screen, there's no anonymity to hide behind-- unlike an Amazon review.

2 upvotes
Poss
By Poss (9 months ago)

If it's written on the Internet then it MUST be true...

2 upvotes
miketala
By miketala (9 months ago)

This report is ids the worst fanboy garbge i cannot believe. MTI is a college for ;arty retrds. I cant blieve that DPR would print so stupid things al the time! duh. Those persons who wrk DPR are totum pole bottom to, but they think they so wiley!!@ theyh contstatn ely remove things i say hear and refuse to let me put up shots my wife. never trust crafty MIT or wiley DPR fanboy. they out to trick you jest like they trick me by make up kit remove dog blimesh.

16 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (9 months ago)

Nicely done... ;)

6 upvotes
Tape5
By Tape5 (9 months ago)

This is exactly why I keep on coming back to DPR. Gold.

2 upvotes
Jim F
By Jim F (9 months ago)

Was that Pig Latin or Rap?

2 upvotes
pwilly
By pwilly (9 months ago)

I think it was pig rap? ;~}

Comment edited 28 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Archiver
By Archiver (9 months ago)

You beat me to it. Darn. :)

1 upvote
ozpaul
By ozpaul (9 months ago)

Dear Sir, Your long lost uncle from Nigeria just read your comments and has decided to reward you with a substantial bequest. Please forward your banking details ASAP....

1 upvote
Create Dont Imitate
By Create Dont Imitate (9 months ago)

Now they need to do a study about private companies hiring paid commenters to pose as ordinary members... who then come and promote... and endlessly defend all problems with the companies they work for.

Their comments are not their own... they are scripted and told what to say.

It is a common problem on the vast majority of websites that deal with products for sale... businesses attempting to manipulate public opinion by using social media.

Tough situation to deal with.

In my opinion... if a commenter working for someone they should be required to state in writing... in the comment... that they are doing so.

2 upvotes
Digitall
By Digitall (9 months ago)

It is true and I personally know some cases. I'm not talking about names obviously, but there is a lot of people do this. And there in some companies specified department for these situations. they have professionals doing counterintelligence to shuffle all opinions.

3 upvotes
Vlad S
By Vlad S (9 months ago)

@Digitall:
"It is true and I personally know some cases. I'm not talking about names obviously"

Why not? If you really do know, then why don't you give the names?

2 upvotes
Create Dont Imitate
By Create Dont Imitate (9 months ago)

Vlad S

Nice try at misdirection. The responsibility is with the paid commenter to be honest about who they are and who they work for.

1 upvote
Vlad S
By Vlad S (9 months ago)

@Create Dont Imitate

it is not misdirection. The poster suggested that he knows for a fact users who mislead readers, but would not say who they are. Because I myself was accused of being a shill, while I have never in my life received any kind of compensation for any sort of marketing whatsoever, I want to know whether Digitall actually has any evidence, or just presents his guesses as a fact.

1 upvote
MdNvS
By MdNvS (9 months ago)

Where do I apply to get paid for posting fake reviews? Sounds like easy money. I write real reviews for a music web magazine and I just get to keep the CDs.

0 upvotes
Create Dont Imitate
By Create Dont Imitate (9 months ago)

Vlad S

There you go doing it again. My comment and Digitals comment... was not about YOU.

Weve all seen it... we know it when we see it... and everyone knows it going on. The issue is what to do about it.

1 upvote
Gryfster
By Gryfster (9 months ago)

@MsNvS lol I was thinking the same thing!

0 upvotes
Vlad S
By Vlad S (9 months ago)

@Create Dont Imitate:
if you do know, it should not be difficult to give the names. If you can't give a name, then you don't know. It's as simple as that. It's easy to throw around baseless accusations; and having been on the receiving end I will fight against that.

0 upvotes
Digitall
By Digitall (9 months ago)

@Vlad
No it's you Vlad, I suppose not even know what you're saying, and what could have been charged. I'm talking about business, I know two who do, but not even this branch. They are completely different products. And I do not want to say names, reserves that right to me not to, they will not add anything important to this topic and the world of photography. Was simply to confirm what is going on and reported by Create Dont Imitate.

0 upvotes
Create Dont Imitate
By Create Dont Imitate (9 months ago)

VladS... still doing it...

How do we know you're claims are true. Have you named names?

See how absurd this is? You are attempting to stop this being talked about... by an attempt to change the subject.Why? YOU are not the subject.

Paid commenters hired by business interests to come to discussion boards and attempt to manipulate the conversation... is the subject.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 11 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
xtoph
By xtoph (9 months ago)

it is a pretty serious issue, imo.
consider an expensive camera purchase, for the sake of argument, a leica m9. reviews vary wildly, to say the least. but the most troubling part is that some of the problems pointed out in negative reviews are extremely serious issues--which other users don't believe exist.
i've shot 100k+ exposures with an m9, and i can attest to the fact that there are problems with it i have never encountered with any other camera. otoh, there is no real way to decide whether you want to buy one, in spite of those problems, besides using it yourself. (i don't regret mine.)
now i want to buy a replacement. there doesn't appear to be any way to sift through some of the criticisms of the new m240 to determine whether they will be decisive other than, you guessed it, using the camera myself.
normally, the solution is trusted reviewers. but authoritative reviews of both the m8 and m9 failed miserably to expose actual problems-user reports did that.
catch-22.

5 upvotes
fad
By fad (9 months ago)

It's important to realize that our decision making can never be perfect. There is no way to eliminate every risk in a purchase - its performance, suitability, QC, obsolescence, etc.

In the world we live in, we make so many purchase decisions we have to adapt an imperfect heuristic that fits our personality, and hope for the best. Certainty is a chimera.

As an aside, that is why Nikon USA's customer hostile service policies are so self-defeating. Potential customers learn about it, and thus are faced with another uncertainty that has nothing to do with the basic product itself. How can they quantify and evaluate their odds of beings screwed by Nikon?

Products are revised so quickly. Reviews are generally done soon after launch. It is only luck if the reviewer uses the gear the same way you do and considers important what you consider important.

We are very lucky though to have such sources of information, biased and incomplete though they may be.

1 upvote
RobertSigmund
By RobertSigmund (9 months ago)

A real problem. We depend on reviews because we rarely can seriously try our stuff before purchase. I have been fooled for example by Michael Reichman with his glowing review of the crappy Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush, and this was by far not the only time.

6 upvotes
xMichaelx
By xMichaelx (9 months ago)

Apparently Amazon doesn't agree that it's a serious problem. I've come across numerous reviews over the years (increasing greatly more recently) from fake reviewers who had obviously cut-and-pasted reviews for items from the same company, or multiple users who had given 5-star reviews to EXACTLY the same groups of items.

Amazon has yet to respond to any of my notifications, and all of those fake reviews are still there.

At this point, I look over a reviewers history carefully before I believe anything they have to say.

1 upvote
Digitall
By Digitall (9 months ago)

Fanboyism is what most uninformed people want to read just for ego and comforting the mind. Many people say only good things of the product that has more to buy the same product or not to feel alone in your choice, and do not feel the urge to speak openly of their defects. These behaviors exist in all areas, whether cameras or other objects. Cars is one of the many great products that only talk their real defects after they sold the car. People are afraid to criticize what may have negative as well that still have the truth only comes to the top after they divest themselves of that product. Meanwhile, they want to feel and make others feel they made the best choice in the world. Some type of manhood or womanhood :)

5 upvotes
Beat Traveller
By Beat Traveller (9 months ago)

Psycholinguistics discovers review bombing.

Reminds me of the time a med student 'discovered' calculus.

5 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (9 months ago)

It is a study of who is contributing these reviews. I don't think they're making any claims about discovering anything new, just figuring out which people are contributing most of these negative reviews. Mildly interesting.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Bluephotons
By Bluephotons (9 months ago)

I rarely base purchases on "reviews", no wonder why I've been buying Olympus gear for the last 13 years!. I'd rather pay attention to real world users. I've already immunized myself.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
neo_nights
By neo_nights (9 months ago)

Well, if you can't try a camera yourself and base your decision-making thoughts on "real world users", what are those if not review(er)s?

9 upvotes
Bluephotons
By Bluephotons (9 months ago)

I don't know about you, but when one of my friends tell me not to go to x restaurant, I don't go, I don't care what Zagat says. That's real world advise.

1 upvote
Zvonko
By Zvonko (9 months ago)

it's easy enough to ask questions in a site like this one... it's rather easy to tell when someone offers information but actually knows nothing. There are some wise posters here whom stand out as good info givers.
Where there is a community of like-minded souls it should be easy enough to get the right information.
Don't believe everything you read!!

2 upvotes
Total comments: 239
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