Three ways to use them... and how not to
User reviews can offer valuable insight into a product's real value after the sale. But many review sites also contain write-ups by fanboys, axe-grinders, and even a few shills. How do you know which reviews to trust?
How to spot a shill
Spotting a shill review is more of an art than a science, but here are some red flags to look for:
Unduly specific use case, user narrative, or consumer segment
If the review paints too complete a picture of the reviewer's precise demographic, the odds are good that you're reading an impostor's work.
Most real people don't bother (or even want) to explain their careers or provide a typical day-in-the-life scenario when they're writing about whether a camcorder works.
If you can picture the reviewer too specifically, treat the review with caution.
Example: "I travel a lot on business, so I need a laptop that's small, durable and gets out of the way so I can do my work. The Atlas 4oo has an extra-long battery life that lets me make good use of all the down-time I spend in airports. It also looks sleek, which means a lot to me when I'm trying to impress a new client."
Emphasis on feature lists and marketing bullet points
Some amateur reviewers innocently add bulleted lists of features to their reviews; after all, tech companies have trained us to look at products in terms of a marketing-friendly set of bullet points.
But marketers try to hammer these points in impostor reviews, too. And even if the review is authentic, you don't want to evaluate the product on the basis of someone else's features list - and especially not the one printed on the side of the product box.
The single, mild criticism
The sneakiest impostor reviews will praise a product, highlight its best qualities, and coo over how much they like it.
Then they'll dirty it up with a minor criticism - something they wish the product did that it doesn't.
This is the old 'exception that proves the rule' gambit; after all, if a quibble is the only thing that a fair and balanced reviewer can find to put in the 'con' column, the product must be pretty great.
When you see such a review, though, check to see whether the criticism refers to a crucial feature that's missing, or whether it's just a throwaway bit of fluff that most consumers will disregard.
If it's the latter, the probable reason it's there is to prove the reviewer's objectivity - a type of proof that impostors are unusually keen to provide.
The deja review
Buried in a pile of reviews or scattered in review collections across multiple retailers are three or four that sound eerily similar, as if the authors were - surprise! - the same person.
These sham reviews are easy enough to spot but only if you read enough reviews to catch them.
Reevoo is also helping to sniff out fake reviews. It's created the SAFER (Shoppers against fake e-reviews) group on social network Facebook, where it alerts web users to any fake reviews Reevoo has discovered.
NEXT PAGE: Reviews aren't everything