What’s in a Review?

by Darren Hood

Introduction

We read and give reviews about companies, products, books, and services, all without understanding the associated dynamics. Then, people act upon what’s provided. When reviews are not engaged with properly, it sets several destructive elements in motion (e.g., gaslighting, anchoring bias, prejudice, inequity) that could easily last for years, leaving the trail of bad user experiences in their wake.

This article basically serves as a challenge to all who read it to write and/or evaluate reviews in excellence, for everything is not as it truly seems and reviews that lack quality do the readers a gross disservice.

The Scenario

An actual review for an unnamed product.

The product has an overall rating of 4.4 out of 5, making you curious about the reviews that include a low rating. Amazon’s user experience allows you to view specific ratings for any product. Here are some interesting findings for this highly rated product, each focusing on a rating of “1” and the associated reasons for said rating:

  • The device would not connect with an Android or iPhone.
  • The product is advertised as performing two tasks, but only really does one as indicated by the accompanying documentation.
  • When I put the device in a particular location, it doesn’t work at all.
  • The device worked for the first 3 weeks, but stopped working after that. Replaced the battery, but the device still wouldn’t work.
  • The device would not pair after a few uses, no matter what was done.
  • The connection with my devices is intermittent.

Reviewing the Reviews

  • While the reviewer gave a low rating because the device did not work with Android or iPhone, the product’s description never claimed that it did. The device is designed to connect with specific digital exercise tools; hence, the review is actually flawed and has no value. Interestingly, Amazon does not provide a way for those perusing the reviews to voice whether or not we value the feedback provided.
  • A person claimed the device was advertised as performing two main tasks and was disappointed to learn that it only dedicated to one task. As with the first review, the product page never makes the claim that the person was disappointed about; hence, the review is actually flawed and has no value.
  • In the third review, the person was disappointed because the device didn’t work in the area those chose to install it. For some reason, this person didn’t consider taking upon themselves to place the device in a non-standard location to be a risk, making this user error. It was not the fault of the device or the vendor. In addition, the review was based on a personal preference that doesn’t apply to anyone else; hence, the review is actually flawed and has no broad value. It should also be noted that it’s also possible that the customer did not actually place the battery in the device. We don’t know if this was the case, but there wasn’t a legitimate reason for the device not to function based on what was done.
  • The 4th, 5th, and 6th reviews were all valid. Why? All three were based on standards and objective perspectives. Each was derived from attempting to use the device properly and the inability to use as advertised. Customers did not take any liberties with the product, it appeared they all assembled the product properly, and user error or bias did not serve as factors.

These variances in dynamics are usually not considered, resulting in people weighting reviews equally. As a result, perspectives are skewed and people fall short of drawing the proper conclusions.

Conclusion

When writing reviews, as exemplified by the examples provided above, it is understandable and valuable to provide info about our experiences (i.e., our SUBJECTIVE take), but such reviews lack substance and value. The overall rating, however, has more weight when it is OBJECTIVE. In other words, the most valuable reviews are based on one’s evaluation in accordance with things like standards, realistic (and accurate) expectations, and comparison with like products and services.

Standards apply to everyone. Due to the absence of standard-based input, subjective takes lack authority and should not be presented as authoritative statements. One cannot declare a resource to be unapproved, untrustworthy, or unreliable (or vice-versa) without standards being a part of their perspective. Subjective takes ARE NOT the same as objective takes and should always be represented as such. When someone does not, it is the partaker’s responsibility to subtract weight from the presentation.

So, how about it? Are you willing to meet the challenge to provide a good user experience for YOUR reviews? Are you willing to generate takeaways from reviews using proper application of critical thinking?

The value of the associated user experience is dependent upon these things.

You can hear more from the author by checking out the UX Uncensored Medium page or listening to The World of UX with Darren Hood wherever podcasts are available.

Darren Hood: UX pro (20+ yrs), adjunct professor, international conf. speaker, founder of Kaizen UX Consulting & Education, & host of The World of UX podcast