Service of Reviews

September 6th, 2011

Categories: Books, Restaurant, Retail, Reviews

reviewstars

Father/daughter travel gurus Arthur and Pauline Frommer warned listeners to their weekly radio show several Sundays ago about taking online reviews to heart. So many are written by friends and family of the hotel or bed and breakfast covered, they cautioned and, they claimed, some hire marketing firms to generate positive reviews.

arthurpaulinefrommerThe Frommers [photo, right] admitted that they sounded self-serving in addressing credibility when they advised listeners to read what the media had to say about a place. Pauline said that countless times she’d find a bed and breakfast that was far nicer and cheaper than the ones in an area with all the so-called great online reviews by guests.

I admit to being an article saver and when I visit a place, I’ll give a particularly toothsome sounding restaurant or tempting boutique I’ve read about a try or look-see. I have been led astray plenty by the press. In Spain, we were treated abominably by the restaurant staff in a place that got a rave review and pages of photos in a major food magazine and in Paris I went out of my way several times during different stays to visit totally nondescript, not worth a detour spots in bland neighborhoods that had been touted by a reporter writing for a major newspaper.

As a PR person my disappointment may drive me more nuts than your standard disillusioned reader as it is very difficult to get coverage in these venues for valid businesses and services. I wonder who vetted the dumps I wasted my time and sometimes my money on.

newspaper-reporterYet I agree with the Frommers. You are generally better off depending on media over “other customers” when making a choice of a product, service or place.  I’ve had clients whose businesses thrive on good reviews by tech bloggers. Their products are put through rigorous tests by knowledgeable enthusiasts and reporters. Buyers of apps or gizmos do well to check them out. Some examples: crunchgear.com, engadget.com, geardiary.com, techtrackr.com or tnerd.com.

As for movie reviews, at least you get an idea of what the subject is or if a flick is an abysmal flop even if you don’t always agree with a reviewer’s rave. We saw “Sarah’s Key” the other day with benefit of no reviews but that’s the exception. We liked the film a lot.

I love a well written, informative and entertaining book review.

Businesses have a terrible time when a nut writes an unfair review on a website or blog. It can’t be erased and appears every time potential customers Google the name of the business. I’ve known reputable, responsive business owners who tear out their hair when this happens.

Have you fallen for inaccurate reviews written by other customers or the press? Do you rely on or ignore reviews? Are reviews in some industries better than others?

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14 Responses to “Service of Reviews”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    If it’s a film or a play I am determined to see, I’m not at all interested in what reviewers have said or written. Otherwise I do pay serious interest to what gets printed. If I have questions, I generally seek out at least three valid critiques and hope for a consensus. If critics are divided, I’ll probably want to see for myself.

    Product reviews—even those rendered by Consumer Reports—are another issue. I may not use a particular product the way the critic does; thus whether it’s positive or negative, it may not be personally relevant. Although there is science involved in what CR reports on, their form of testing may or may not relate at all to the way I intend to use a particular product.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Mervyn,

    Unless it involves a live performance by someone I adore, if all reviews pan a film or a play, I’m not going.

    The other week I bought a skirt from an online vendor and read the reviews. Several noted that they liked the skirt but that it was too big at the waist. The price was a song, I needed it so I bought it. Sure ’nuff, the waist was big….but I kept the skirt as the return postage would have been almost as much as the item and I hide the waist under a long tee shirt. I admit I was surprised at the accuracy of the reviews!

  3. JBS Said:

    I read reviews, especially of books and often movies, but I determine on my own whether to believe it or not. I’ve picked up a Pulitzer prize winner in the past and hated it; and I’ve read a book with a “fair” review and thought it was wonderful. I’m more likely where books are concerned to check the author first. I have my favorites like anyone else.

    With movies, I check out the actors and sometimes (if taken from a book), the book’s author, and I go by that, rather than the review. Judy

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    I’m the same with movies! At times everyone RAVES about one, I take time out to see it and I’ve even hated some “must-see, simply FABULOUS” films!

    I like some dopey TV shows and can’t watch for a second some others everyone talks about. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so off center!

  5. HBK Said:

    Interesting subject. I’m afraid I take a dim view of the usefulness of most reviews.

    My most recent experience was with a highly rated Irish film my husband persuaded me to see. It turned out to be a not so stately progression of expletives and episodes of abusive behavior tumbling forth in disorderly profusion. The audience, including my husband, laughed often, but for the life of me, I could not figure out why. After arriving home, we turned on the television to find that great 1934 film, “It Happened One Night,” playing. What a contrast!

    The moral of the story is reviews are not worth much unless the reviewer shares your point of view and sense of taste.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    HBK,

    Wish we knew the name of that film so we could see it and chime in!

    I think I’m the only person in the world who hated “Dancing with Wolves.”

    I’m not sure that anyone can always share your point of view and sense of taste, reviewer or otherwise. Some dear friends and I agree about a ton of things but not always and every time about books or films or architecture or fashion. I’m surprised when I adore a book or film and a friend says, “It was OK, nothing special.”

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Reviews are merely opinions, and should be treated as such. Often nastiness comes out of envy, and/or a personal dislike of an actor or subject matter. Raves at times reflect slavish admiration of someone or something on stage or reel. Best policy is not to pay too much attention unless the reviewer has the reputation of intellectual honesty and fairness. Even then, the best person to judge is usually oneself.

    I used to enjoy the late and highly entertaining Clive Barnes, whose nastiness when displeased (more often than not) went straight for the jugular. His influence was such, that at the height of his influence, he may well have destroyed many an up and coming talent and squelched many a worthy performance. While the writing produced many a masterpiece, its worth was offset by an apparent intent to squash incentive as opposed to guiding it to success. Barnes: Writer: A++ Critic: F

  8. Martha Takayama Said:

    Without knowing precisely why, the reviews I read and rely on most are book reviews.

    Having gone to see a Claude Chabrol movie years ago after reading a rhapsodic review in a very important newspaper I nearly fainted from the violence of the opening scene which continued through most of the movie. The experience left me jaded and mistrustful of movie reviews! Since then I read with great caution and try to evaluate if the premise or subject matter, actors and director seem interesting.

    I have mixed feelings about written reviews for restaurants, and hair/skin care. Also about art. It is generally easier to write negative and even destructive criticism than it is to create or produce anything positive.

    Lacking any background information about things technical or mechanical I have to rely on other customers or written reviews. However, in general I find the artificial nature of many online reviews less than appealing, and often wonder about their veracity. I remember vaguely the manner in which the markedly untalented daughter of a political/public figure was recently overwhelmingly declared a winner for some kind of talent contest……

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    It may be more fun to write negative things–and I bet that some think they appear to be smart when they are able to write that the sauce is missing some exotic herb or that the painting is derivative of so-and-so and shows little originality.

    I’m with you: I have a friend whose sister–also my friend–is a genius at all things mechanical and technical. When I bought my first digital camera, [I still have and use it] I asked her for her recommendation. She’d done a ton of research and I knew she would steer me in the right direction. I never had a moment of trouble with it!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I loved Siskel & Ebert because they were amusing to watch. They didn’t always agree and they weren’t mean.

    Clive Barnes was obviously fun to read but I shudder what he did to careers because he felt like being snarky! I wonder if he ever got his. I think I saw a vintage movie in which a character imitated him, but I don’t recall its name. I’m surprised that his employer didn’t get tired of his antics. I also wonder what, if anything, the person who got the great review had to do….another shiver is happening.

  11. Amy Said:

    Since I’m pretty much done with seeing movies in theaters, I’ll chime in on travel reviews. I’m going to have to disagree with Mr. Frommer.. though I love his books, and do peek into them on occasion, I live for TripAdvisor. It has never steered me wrong.

    The trick is to realize what HBK said “reviews are not worth much unless the reviewer shares your point of view and sense of taste.” When I’m in the midst of a google search on a new destination, I check TripAdvisor, then check out some of the profiles of the reviewers. Are they adventure travelers like me? What kind of things do they review? If I’m checking out a restaurant for good fish, you bet I’m looking for reviewers from coastal towns that KNOW fresh from frozen when they taste it. If I’m looking for a dive shop, I’m checking reviews from experienced divers, because a first time diver will say it was the best trip ever even if it was subpar.

    It’s laughable that he thinks that reviews from print journalists should be trusted over online reviews, as if PR reps for travel destinations don’t try to sway how something is written just as these marketing firms write fake reviews! The difference is, I can read 100 different reviews online, while there is just one in print.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Amy,

    A secret: I know PR people who ask friends and family to stuff review opportunities with glowing comments for products they represent. Doesn’t sound as though TripAdvisor has this problem.

    The national media that lets me down makes a mistake. Credibility is what it sells. I no longer buy or read the magazine mentioned in my post and I skip over the travel coverage of the newspaper I read almost daily.

    Letting down a reader is like a price gouger taking advantage of an emergency. He/she might ask for and get $10 for one AA battery before the storm but afterwards, expect the aisles of the store to be empty as the friends and family who write false or exaggerated glowing online reports are also good at boycotting a business.

  13. KF Said:

    I read an interesting article, I think in the NYT, about reviews of hotels in Trip Advisor and other websites. People are paid to write reviews — either favorable to attract travelers or very unfavorable to keep potential clients from choosing a competitor’s hotel. So, take the reviews you read with the proverbial grain of salt. . . they may not be all you think they are.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    KF,

    Funny: Amy, who wrote a previous comment, loves and depends on TripAdvisor. Guess it’s a matter of luck.

    While this has little to do with reviews, it does have to do with reading info on the web and double checking. A friend was coming to NYC and made an online reservation. Turned out that the hotel was no longer in midtown where she thought she was going to be….it was in the financial district, miles from her weekend activities which meant hefty cab fares. She’d asked me to find a place for a bunch of people to meet for a drink or tea where she didn’t have to walk far as she’d recently had an operation on her foot. When I called the hotel for suggestions, I soon learned where they were!

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