Ever notice it is getting harder and harder to read a good honest-to-god product review? Investigative journalism is pretty much dead today. Everyone from YouTube, Amazon, TV, websites and even magazines are rewarded for being biased, being influencers or getting you to post a 5* review. Today’s Inspiration Friday: Support Unbiased Reviews is about getting our readers to know what TMW does to combat biasness and how for the past 23 years TMW has been able to keep our unbiased business mantra alive and kicking.
Welcome to our 23rd year in business online. 23 years this week, that’s a long time to strike an unbiased balance to keep our 360 million readers happy around the world and still keep great relations with the companies we do reviews for. Sometimes the back-and-forth is easy, at other times, our unbiased reviews sadly result in a severed partnership. When Total Motorcycle says something negative about a product we make sure to offer up a constructive solution on how WE would suggest to fix it rather than just slag a product. After all, being a negative Nelly doesn’t nothing to improve our industry or the product we are reviewing! We challenge press releases rather than copy/paste them like other motorcycle sites. This week we challenged a big press release from a big manufacturer, their answer wasn’t acceptable to us so we didn’t post it even though other motorcycle sites copied/pasted it verbatim.
If we don’t stand up for you, who will? At TMW we stand up for you, even if the end result hits our wallet.
For the past month we have been reviewing a brand new 2022 Indian FTR1200S for our readers! You most likely have read reviews before ours and that’s ok as we have to wait to have the bike for a longer time than a few hours or a day. We want it for weeks to live with it, ride it in all conditions and do what you would do to it if you bought it with your hard earned dollars. Then we report back, all the good, bad and ugly. After all, that’s what you want to hear before you buy something right? That’s where unbiased reviews come in. You have to support them, support us and anyone else that does unbiased reviews as unbiased reviews are almost dead today.
You can support TMW with Patreon or our new YouTube membership starting at $2.99/mo. With your support reviews like the FTR1200S at locations like the Bonneville Salt Flats or Mount Zion National Park can take place.
As our editor Eric says “It’s definitely tough to strike a balance between giving people unbiased content and being able to afford to do it if the audience isn’t engaged in the support.”
Won’t you Please help us save UNBIASED REVIEWS?
Total Motorcycle would like to thank our review staff for inspiring us to bring you this week’s Inspiration Friday: Support Unbiased Reviews. Each week we bring you another Inspiring Motorcycle story to inspire you to get out and ride! Thank you for your support for visiting us and supporting us at Patreon for just $1 a month.
Amazon is cracking down on biased customer reviews
Amazon updated its community guidelines today to prohibit so-called “incentivized reviews,” which are customer reviews of a product that was received for free or at a discount in exchange for an online write-up. The company says these types of reviews make up a tiny fraction of overall Amazon.com reviews. Yet studies have shown that incentivized reviewers are less likely to give products negative feedback and review hundreds of products on average, potentially affecting the overall sales performance of otherwise mediocre items.
The company says it will still support incentivized reviews handled through its Vine program, which was set up in 2007 to offer a more bias-free customer review system. Vine lets retailers pay Amazon a fee to distribute its products to trusted reviewers, who never deal with the maker of the product itself. The Vine program does not incentivize positive coverage and Amazon limits the number of Vine reviews it displays for any given item. One exception to this new rule is the book category, as Amazon does not want to prohibit the industry standard of sending out advance review copies of new novels and non-fiction.
AMAZON WILL STILL GIVE OUT REVIEW UNITS OF NEW PRODUCTS THROUGH ITS VINE PROGRAM
Amazon has often struggled to maintain the integrity of its customer review system, which millions of consumers rely on to make smart purchase decisions and avoid faulty or substandard products. In some cases, Amazon has aggressively gone after companies that abuse its system and even sued individuals who offered reviews in exchange for cash on freelance job sites.
While the company does not spell out exactly why it decided to ban these reviews, the decision may have been influenced by a recent study from ReviewMeta. That website is a pro-consumer online database that analyzes reviews to suss out certain trends. When looking into incentivized reviews, ReviewMeta found that these reviewers were “12 times less likely to give a 1-star rating than non-incentivized reviews, and almost 4 times less likely to leave a critical review in general.” Its findings were published in July, yet a video detailing the results went viral on Reddit last month. Overall, it seems to suggest consumers are less critical of products in the absence of any monetary investment and that some incentivized reviewers post positive feedback to receive more free products in the future.
Is Online Review Bias Real?
Is online review bias real? In 2018, Harvard Business Review (HBR) published a report exploring the true quality of online reviews on websites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, Facebook, Google, and Glassdoor.
According to the report, reviews typically have a distribution of opinion that is “highly polarized, with many extreme positive and/or negative reviews, and few moderate opinions.”
This explains why it isn’t unusual to encounter reviews by customers who loved their experience so much that they gave the business a 5-star rating. It’s also common to see reviews from those so disappointed by (even sometimes angry at) a business that they decided to leave the lowest-rated review possible.
Explaining Review Bias
But what of the oft-silent majority of middle-of-the-road voices? According to HBR, their opinion might not always be accurately represented in reviews.
“If you had a moderate view, you’re likely to have left no review at all, finding it not worth the time and effort.”
Unless a person really loved or hated the customer experience, they’re not likely to review a business. This kind of polarization can then lead to others having misleading opinions about businesses.
online review bias
Are Online Reviews Reliable?
Previous research by MIT also suggested that some reviews could be systematically biased or easily manipulated.
Among the factors that cause online review bias to happen: social proof, a psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation.
The MIT report read, “Our herd instincts — natural human impulses characterized by a lack of individual decision-making — cause us to think and act in the same way as other people around us.”
Social Proof and Biased Reviews
As a powerful form of social proof, reviews can influence what people think they should say.
A diner’s Yelp review of a Japanese restaurant with 100 reviews and a 4.7-star rating is less likely to go against the grain and offer a counterpoint to the majority’s positive opinion. They’re likely to say the same as other diners did: best sushi ever.
social proof in online reviews
“When we see that other people have appreciated a certain book, enjoyed a hotel or restaurant or liked a particular doctor — and rewarded them with a high online rating — this can cause us to feel the same positive feelings about the book, hotel, restaurant or doctor and to likewise provide a similarly high online rating,” the report added.
There are also situations where extreme views are over-represented, or where social proof pushes consumers to follow their herd instincts. This may negatively affect the quality of data found in online reviews, potentially resulting in information inaccuracies, ratings bubbles, undeserved low scores, and reputation crises.
What Businesses Can Do to Combat Review Bias
In today’s age where reviews have a powerful effect on shopping decisions and consumer behavior, it is critical for companies to introduce mechanisms that improve the quality of their customers’ review data, thereby reducing review bias and the potential for manipulation in online reviews.
Proactively Ask for Feedback
One way to reduce review bias and balance review sentiment is to facilitate as many authentic positive reviews as possible. This is effective particularly in the early stages of the ratings process.
There are plenty of options when asking for reviews. You can distribute surveys, implement a customer feedback system, send email and SMS requests, or create review request handouts that are given after completed customer transactions.
Ask customers for feedback
Remind Customers that Their Opinion Helps Others
When asking for feedback, social reinforcement goes a long way.
“Online reviews are a social endeavor,” the HBR reporters wrote. “People are more likely to leave online reviews when they’re reminded that doing so helps others. Simple pro-social incentives also led the distribution of reviews to be less biased, creating a more normal bell-curve distribution of reviews.”
Provide Motivational Incentives
Incentives do not necessarily mean rewarding reviewers with cash, freebies, or discounts. Non-monetary economic incentives based on the concept of “give to get” can push less vocal middle-of-the-road customers to share their opinions online.
One of the classic examples of this kind of “give to get” mechanism is the Airbnb reviews policy of not making guest reviews public until the host leaves theirs — or the other way around.
In a study, employer review site Glassdoor asked its users to submit content in exchange for free access to valuable information on its website.
The policy helped Glassdoor draw reviews from a much broader base of users. It also led to a more balanced and representative picture of the distribution of online opinions about given products, services and companies.
Customer reviews research shows that 94% of consumers use reviews to guide most of their ordinary purchase decisions. However, reviews are more than a powerful information resource; they also represent a fundamentally social endeavor. By encouraging less vocal customers to join the conversation, businesses can help reduce online review bias, normalize the curve, and improve the quality of data found in reviews.
Over time, Amazon hopes to alter its Vine system to help improve its trustworthiness, but Chee Chew, Amazon’s vice president of customer experience, says the company is not ready to disclose details on that front quite yet. Meanwhile, the company will continue to take legal action against those who attempt to manipulate its review system for any purpose.