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In this media age we’re all living in, we often wonder, who can we trust? We search for valuable information about people, places, companies, restaurants, hotels, and so much more. But how do we know who is providing honest info, and who is just benefitting their own cause? These divisions are often blurry for consumers.
In recent years review websites like Angie’s List, Google+, Yelp, and Judy’s Book have gained popularity. They allow you to read what other customers of a company thought of their service. Angie’s List in particular has earned notoriety in this department. But can you trust what Angie’s List tells you? Maybe, maybe not.
Many people have had great experiences with Angie’s List, heck, even McAdams Plumbing enjoys a steady stream of customers from the website. Who are we to bite the hand that feed us, right? Well, our company places it’s values before it’s bottom line. So we feel obligated to share any useful information with our customers and readers when we come across it.
One such piece of useful information was brought to our attention last week. Apparently, Forbes magazine published a digital article about Angie’s List and what Consumer Reports thinks of the service they offer. Read the article below, or click the link here to read it on Forbes.com, and decide for yourself.
Imagine that you’ve moved to a new city and need a hairdresser. How do you go about finding a new stylist? Perhaps you check Yelp (YELP +2.38%), while a friend insists she found hers on Google (GOOG -1.02%)+ Local (LOCM +1.26%). Your mother is an Angie’s List devotee, while a tech-savvy coworker recommends newbie review site Porch. How do you know which site to trust? According to a new survey from Consumer Reports, it should all come down to how the sites gather the reviews and compile the ratings.
Consumer Reports studied six different consumer review sites – Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Consumers’ Checkbook, Google+ Local, Porch and Yelp – and found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that not all are as trustworthy as they claim to be.
It’s worth noting, of course, that Consumer Reports works in this review environment, and while they do not review local restaurants and services in the same manner as Google+ Local and Yelp, it has found that online reviewers have encroached upon its business. That said, the consumer publication had some harsh words for Angie’s List (ANGI -0.28%) and its ilk.
“[Angie’s List] makes a big point to say they’re consumer-driven, when in fact 70% of their revenue comes from advertising. It’s not advertising Coca Cola, it’s advertising from the companies they rate,” explained Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor for Consumer Reports. While companies do not pay to be listed on Angie’s List, companies can pay to appear higher up in the search results – which Blyskal believes compromises the validity of the Angie’s List sorting system.
“If you’re looking for contractor, you’re only going to look at first page or two. That skews the ratings,” he said. “It’s about who advertises. I don’t think they’re being straight with the public on that.”
In a statement, Angie’s List founder and CMO Angie Hicks said, “Angie’s List is built on a foundation of fairness and transparency. Everything at Angie’s List starts with the consumers. The consumers give the reviews and assign grades. The companies’ A-F ratings are the average of the consumer reviews we receive. Companies that are A-B rated are eligible to advertise with Angie’s List, but they must offer a discount with that advertisement and if their grades fall below a B, we pull their advertising.” Hicks also noted that the company puts itself through an outside audit in order to determine that the data-handling process is fair to all businesses listed on the site, and that these audits have “always found Angie’s List reviews a fair, impartial, trustworthy source.”
Angie’s List isn’t the only review service that drew concern from Consumer Reports: Blyskal had words of caution for Yelp users, as well.
“Businesses can get in touch with person that writes a negative review and make amends. That’s good from a customer service point of view,” he said, but explained that what’s good customer service can lead to a poor reviewing system, since the now-appeased customer can edit or even delete the bad Yelp review. “For the next customer coming along, it kind of changes their credit rating, if you will. They take off the blemish. [The bad review]’s not there; they don’t know about it.”
In an interesting twist – and one that illustrates the extent of the divide amongst online review aggregators – Consumer Reports compared the reviews for one plumbing company in San Francisco. Angie’s List gave it an F, while the BBB gave it an A+. Yelp users gave the company an average of 2.5 stars out of 5, while 40% of Consumers’ Checkbook subscribers rated the company as “superior.”
Google+ Local did not have a rating for the plumbing service that Consumer Reports could compare, but Blyskal did note that the Google reviews can be a more trustworthy service than others because it is linked to a person’s real name and (theoretically) real picture.
“When people are anonymous, they’re going to be more ‘Wild West,’ so you don’t’ know if you can trust them,” he said. “The more anonymous you are, the less accountability you have. A real name and real person, the more accountable they are.”
The one review service that drew no complaints from Consumer Reports was Consumers’ Checkbook, a site that automatically surveys customers rather than waiting for customers with selfish motivations to post a review themselves.
“On most of these websites, some consumer has for some reason been motivated to rate them, whether it’s good or bad. So there’s some motivation which introduces a bias,” Blyskal said. “Consumers’ Checkbook, that’s a tough one to beat. It’s more empirical.”
Consumers’ Checkbook does carry a subscription fee of $34 for two years, but Blyskal says you get what you pay for – and ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you like what you’re paying for.
“It costs something to produce a more reliable product. It costs less to produce a less reliable product,” he said. “Which medicines do you pay for? The ones that work. If it doesn’t work, you don’t buy it.”