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Consumers rely heavily on ratings and product reviews when considering a purchase. In response, the world of online retail has spawned an entire industry of tools and software to capture consumer opinions for every product and service imaginable. Most of the time, it’s a great system. However, like all good ideas, there can also be a downside. Unscrupulous individuals are gaming the system at unprecedented rates.
As a consumer, it can be hard to know which sites to trust when you are looking at product reviews. Is it fraudulent? Did somebody receive compensation to write a fake review? How can you tell? Thankfully, there are companies online that address these concerns by providing clear and unbiased ratings for consumers.
So whether you’re shopping for equipment for your business or a new gas grill for your patio at home, it pays to know which reviews you can trust. Below we list four of the best review sites out there.
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
TestFreaks collects ratings from all over the web. They use their own algorithm to assign an overall score to a product. The site aggregates reviews from around 15,000 sources through the use of its proprietary technology.
In short, they use everyone else’s data to come up with their own, better, data. It’s ingenious.
However, because it is based on raw data and not the actual blood, sweat, and tears of a product reviewer, the results could be skewed. Additionally, considering that hundreds of companies offer a monetary incentive for positive reviews of their products, this could easily tip the rating scale based on the law of averages alone.
The system they have developed allows businesses across the web to incorporate a rating-and-review feature with a simple line of code. We suspect this is where most of their revenue derives. What’s more, the company has some heavy-hitting clients, including HP, Pricerunner, and Finlux.
Reviewing and Scoring
Testfreaks uses a scoring system they call the “FreakScore.” This is the overall product score. It combines expert and user reviews and is based on four factors:
Reviews from high quality, trusted sources are given higher importance.
The more votes a product has, the more reliable the information is.
Reviews from experts carry more weight than general user reviews.
Testfreaks compares the age of a product with its expected life cycle and adjusts the score with this in mind.
Products with the least reviews usually receive a FreakScore which is close to the category average. Moreover, if a product has too few reviews, the score will be marked as uncertain, which is designated by an asterisk (*).
Our rating: 4 STARS
Location: New York, NY
The Wirecutter is owned by the New York Times Company. They maintain a curated list of products they claim are the most beneficial to the average consumer. However, the site reads a little bit like a list of favorite things. All the same, product recommendations are made through interviewing, reporting, and testing by teams of scientists, researchers, and writers.
The majority of The Wirecutter’s revenue comes from affiliate commissions from their merchant partners. Therefore, in order to maintain unbiased reviews, reviewers and writers are not made aware of the commissions, if any. In short, the editorial team works separately and without any input from the revenue team.
Reviewing and Scoring:
There appears to be no specific formula for the reviews. That is, writers have quite a bit of creative leeway to convince readers of the efficacy of the product and of how they came to be an expert on said product.
For instance, near the beginning of every product review, there is a template where the writer addresses a number different categories such as, “Why you should trust us,” “How we picked the product,” “How we tested the product,” and more.
In short, this section is essentially a self-review by the reviewer who is doing the reviewing.
To give just one example, for an article about robotic vacuums, this self-review section was more than 3,200 words long. What’s more, that doesn’t even include the actual review of the product. Consequently, the average consumer will probably not have the time or inclination to read the entire discussion of a product.
Our rating: 4 STARS
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Honest Product Reviews (HPR) provides precise and accurate reviews in eight different consumer categories. These categories include: Backyard, Cleaning, Clothing and Shoes, Electronics, Home, Kitchen, Personal, and Pet. Their review style gives a side-by-side comparison of similar products. This allows the consumer to make an educated choice before purchasing. The site is fresh, clean, and easy to navigate. It focuses strictly on the products being reviewed. There are no unnecessary distractions and no fluff.
Reviewing and Scoring
Honest Product Reviews utilizes real people—writers, designers, reviewers, testers, and web designers—to compile information on hundreds of products every month. Their ratings algorithm combines the following criteria to create an overall score for each product reviewed:
- Materials and Construction
- Customer Satisfaction
- Pros and Cons
Using this easy-to-understand formula, the company provides product reviews that are simple and honest. HPR earns revenue through the Amazon affiliate program. What’s more, their unbiased reviews are limited to products that are typically found on Amazon. However, the company’s upfront disclosure of this policy reflects their efforts to remain honest and transparent.
Our Rating: 5 STARS
Location: Yonkers, NY
Consumer Reports has long been considered the gold standard for product reviews. You probably remember that the company published a print magazine long before it ever had a web presence. And as a matter of fact, the print magazine is still in existence. Further, the company owns a nonprofit educational and consumer product testing center that is the largest in the world. Revenue comes from the company’s 3.2 million digital subscribers. What’s more, consumers around the world know and trust this iconic company for its unbiased reviews of products, from automobiles to mattresses.
Reviewing and Scoring
The Consumer Reports testing facility employs scientists, researchers, and analysts to carry out objective testing at its facility. The formula they use varies depending upon the product. Once their experts have completed testing, the company’s editorial staff writes and publishes the findings.
Because Consumer Reports has no outside agenda other than to work directly to educate consumers, they have stringent policies that ensure the company remains independent.
The main downside to using Consumer Reports is its membership fee, which is why we give it only a 4.5-star rating.
Our Rating: 4.5 STARS
5. Healthy Top 10’s
Healthy Top 10s is a small team of women led by Samantha Brown who all team up to write about health, beauty, and makeup. They’re covering a LOT of things and Samantha says “it is only getting started” as they continue to cover more depth to their current topics and more breadth across more. They not only provide great hacks such as “How to Clean Your Comb or Hair Brush”, but also spend a lot of time to test products.
Although they don’t test absolutely everything themselves, they do a good job of actually reaching out to people who really have via email or phone call to get first hand accounts of the products. They do that in addition to reading reviews of the products to come up with a fresh perspective that captures their own experience, first hand testers that aren’t them, as well as the general web online.
The take the following into consideration for grading:
- Team experience – how did Samantha and her like the product?
- First hand accounts – did the people they talked to like it? Why and why not?
- Online reviews – important to take the general masses into consideration
- Number of reviews – The more reviews, the better understanding of a product
- Consistency – does it work multiple times, and for different people?
- Effectiveness – when it does, how good is it?
- Price – self explanatory!
- Age – how old is the product? An older product lends more to its reputation
Samantha and her team highlight the product grade by grading it out of 5 and with some nice stars, usually placed in a well formatted table. They will usually highlight 3 best of the reviewed products (usually 5-11) according to the intended audience and their experience, making it easy for anyone to get great purchasing advice.