I tend to put way too much stock in online reviews. I obsess and obsess and obsess, reading everything possible on every possible site. Recently I was trying to buy A. a raincoat for his birthday. I wanted to find a good deal on one of the fancy name brands, so I was checking several sites frequently for sales and coupon codes. In the meantime, I saw one at Target that was considerably less expensive, but I refrained from buying it. I read and read some more about taped, water-tight seams, drawstring hems, under-arm zipper vents, and inner pockets.. All the raincoats started to sound alike after awhile, which, hello, they kind of are. Customers had good and bad things to say about all of them, which was little to no help at all. And you know what? I eventually stopped the madness and went to buy the one at Target, which seems to work absolutely fine. I keeps the rain off, which was the whole point to begin with.

I do the same thing with restaurants. I have several apps on my phone that provide reviews and information about restaurants and I usually check ALL of them before I try a place out. One of the apps, I’ve learned, tends to be more promotional, so its reviews are always glowing. I had really poor customer service at one place that it raved about. But other times, I’ve been pleased with a restaurant that had mixed or so-so reviews from a lot of people. On Saturday, I was craving sushi, which happens to me with some regularity. I looked up sushi places near me and did what I do: obsessed. Neither of the two closest to our apartment had particularly positive reviews. One thing I’ve noticed about online reviews is that reviewers tend to latch on to one thing and harp on it. So, for example, at one of the sushi places they apparently play weird techno-ish music, which is what multiple reviewers complained about. But I don’t necessarily care about the music; I care more about the food and the service! It taints my first impression of something if I have these preconceived expectations that I’ve gleaned from random people on the internet. The sushi place with the music is in the same shopping center as my Kroger, so I decided to chance it for convenience’s sake. I took myself there for lunch after church and was pleasantly surprised! There actually was weird music playing, and all of the staff seemed a bit frantic and rushed, but the food was good and cheap. I was slightly intimidated by the sheer number of choices on the menu, but that’s my problem, not the restaurant’s. The other nice thing is that I sat at the sushi bar and I was not the only person sitting alone reading! I felt like I was part of a club or something. And the next time I’m craving sushi, I’ll be quite likely to head back there.

However, I didn’t rush online to write a review. That’s one reason I’ve learned you need to take online reviews with a grain of salt: people are much more likely to write negative reviews than positive (or if positive, then it will be GLOWINGLY positive). No one writes a review to say, “Yeah, it was fine. I’ll probably go back there some day.” There’s none of that middle ground. But what I try to look for is consistency among negative (or positive) reviews. If multiple people mention that they got food poisoning from the same dish, or if a couple of reviews point out the same nuanced flaw in an electronic item, I’m going to take note. And if a review is well-written, I’ll give it more credibility. When we were looking for an apartment, A. found numerous well-written reviews of one of the places on our list that had the same specific complaints, so we took those to heart and removed that complex from our list.

I think online reviews can definitely be useful (that’s probably why they exist in the first place), but I think there’s a lot to be said for just trying stuff, too. If you have reasons for being really interested in something, I’m not sure online reviews should sway you against it until you’ve checked it out for yourself. But if you’re on the fence, a comprehensive set of online reviews might be just the ticket. Only you probably don’t need to obsess the way I do and read 13 pages of them. :-)

Do you read or write online reviews? What do you think about them?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman