December 19, 2007
User Reviews
Posted by Gordon Smith

I just purchased a new mobile phone. The last time I did this, I asked for advice from readers, and I read consumer reviews. While the honeymoon was promising, the marriage was a failure. I ended up disliking my Samsung SCH-i730 so much that I have completely abandoned the idea of having a PDA bundled with my phone.

This time, I didn't seek any advice or read any reviews before stepping into the Verizon store and purchasing an LG VX8350. The expert reviews are mixed, but it looks like it could be just the ticket for me. It's small. The keys are easy to press. And it's primarily a phone.

Which brings me to the topic of this post. Would user reviews have helped me with this choice? Adina Wise explores the value of user reviews on Salon as she labors over the purchase of tissue:

In a 2007 Customer Engagement Survey conducted by the global marketing research firm ACNielsen, online consumer opinions represented the third-most-trusted form of advertising, after word-of-mouth opinions and newspaper ads. (Magazines, television and radio all landed lower spots, proving today's tough reality for high-budget ad types.) Another market research firm, E-consultancy, asked online retailers about the effects of adding customer-generated reviews and ratings. Seventy-seven percent said site traffic increased, and 42 percent reported a rise in the amount of money spent. So people aren't just gravitating toward pages with ratings, they're also spending more when they get there. I may be sucked in by customer reviews, but I am clearly not the only one.

Adina frets about the credibility of anonymous reviewers, but for me the bigger issue is the noise-to-information ratio. Look at some of the consumer reviews for my new phone. Some people like it, some don't, which is exactly what I would expect with a relatively inexpensive phone like this one. johnny5z2 is very disappointed in the phone, but then you find out he is all in a lather because the phone is too light ("when you try open the phone it slides right out of your hand") and doesn't have many "display theme" options -- "Hmmm, I'm pretty sure a majority of people like having it their way, well with this phone you either have it all black and white with certain symbols in color or you have all the colors of the rainbow spread in all the seperate menus." Let's just say that johnny and I are not interested in the same features.

In most circumstances, when making a big purchase, I read user reviews, but I have come to treat them like student evaluations. I ignore isolated complaints like johnny's and look for patterns.

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