It’s no secret that over the last few years social media and user generated content have surged online. But lately I have not purchased a product or service without reading other people’s opinions on it.

These opinions don’t belong to friends or families yet, they have become crucial to my purchasing decisions, online and off. It’s become natural for me to search for reviews on almost everything and these are normally very easy to find.

To not look at reviews has become a gamble.

Review example Just Eat

Consumer behaviour has certainly changed in this regard but has the presence of online reviews changed the way businesses operate for the better?

I’m not alone in my obsession, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, with 47% of Brits being online reviewers themselves. There is no shortage of user generated content out there providing up to date and impartial opinions on anything from a fortnights stay in the Bahamas to pizza delivery. Admittedly, I’m more familiar with the latter but the point is there’s reviews out there for almost everything.

TripAdvisor’s entire presence is built around user generated content with the recent addition of booking through the platform. Airbnb has made reviewing crucial to the process with ‘Super host’ (hosts who have 5 stars in 80% of their reviews) gaining a badge of excellence and their listings appear at the top of results. Uber asks you to review your taxi driver no matter the length of your ride. Amazon even allow you to comments on reviews themselves and rate their helpfulness.   

Air BnB review blog example

Recently I read an opinion that online reviews were making us miserable. We constantly compare products and services in search of the ‘’pie-in-the-sky ideal’’. It crossed my mind that reviews have gone too far and perhaps the current consumer is in fact searching for perfection without enjoying the process of discovery for themselves.

It’s this position that I must compare to the effect that online reviews have on businesses.

Online reviews generate up to date content which differs from a generic product specification or description, this enables products to meet search criteria that perhaps they wouldn’t previously. It’s said that consumers are more likely to trust reviews when they see both good and bad opinions. Users are said to suspect fake content if they don’t see any negative opinions on the page. Bad reviews can’t be good for businesses, right? Clearly this isn’t something businesses are going to actively seek out. However, it is the way that these reviews are handled which can become invaluable. If a bad opinion is voiced and a business handles this effectively with graciousness and pose in the public eye this can only add to the trust that reviews instil.

So, do online reviews compel businesses to strive for better products and services? If so, this must be great for businesses and consumers alike. But have reviews gone too far? I suppose the balance lies within the risk for the consumer.

Whatever the answer, it’s clear that online reviews matter. It’s important for businesses to be proactive in gaining positive reviews and turn negative reviews into examples of great customer service.

November sees the controversial launch of an app allowing users review people. Yep, people.

We used reviews to inform KiA drivers in our award-winning campaign last year. Take a look at our other case studies here.