Our Obsession With Product Reviews

Reviews: Can't Stop. Won't Stop.

Recently, Johnny and I watched The Net. If you’ve never seen it, Sandra Bullock plays a top notch computer hacker in the mid-90s. With her hacking skills, she can actually order a pizza ONLINE!!!

Less than 20 years ago, the days of online shopping were a mere figment of some movie director’s vivid imagination. And now, here we are in 2014 where online shopping has made it possible to almost never leave the house. And even better than shopping online? Reading online product reviews. I’m obsessed with making the best decision when spending is involved. I may be the spender in our marriage, but I’m a calculated spender. I pore over reviews before making almost any purchase, whether its clothes, hotels, books, or even a spatula.

My top place to read reviews is Amazon.com. Even if I’m about to purchase a product in a brick and mortar store, I look up the reviews for that product on Amazon first — usually in the middle of a store aisle while Sally grabs things off the shelves. Johnny is equally obsessed. He can’t make a hotel reservation without first reading every TripAdvisor review out loud to me.

Needless to say, we’re hooked. And reading online reviews actually helps our budget because we rarely make impulse purchases. I have to read at least a dozen reviews on a product and then compare it to half a dozen similar products before we actually buy it.

Here are a few items we’ve bought recently and the incredible reviews that sealed the deal for us:

Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker

Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker

This may seem like a strange purchase. Nevermind that it has 1,269 reviews on Amazon. People are passionate about their breakfast sandwiches, I guess. Johnny’s been eyeing this thing for a while (don’t ask me why), and we had $30 left on a gift card, so we took the plunge after reading this guy’s review. We’ve been very pleased with our purchase, and we talk about the legendary Kilgore Trout every time we make a breakfast sandwich.

Shark VacuumShark Navigator Professional Lift-Away Bagless Upright Vacuum

In December, our vacuum broke. We scoured the Internet for a few weeks, and then we were given a Best Buy gift card for Christmas, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to save money on a new vacuum. This vacuum had incredible reviews on Amazon and Best Buy, such as this one. So far, it’s lived up to the hype.

Maxi Cosi Pria 70 Convertible Car SeatMaxi Cosi Convertible Car Seat

I’ve been reading car seat reviews for months. I’ve read hundreds. I wanted a car seat close to $200 that was both safe and super comfy for road trips. It’s well documented that Sally’s terrible in the car, so comfort was make or break for our sanity. One reviewer’s description (combined with a $25 off Amazon promotion, which is still going on!) was the deciding factor in purchasing this seat. The jury’s still out on this car seat since we’ve yet to install it in our car, but we have high hopes.

And here’s an Amazon review you won’t be able to stop reading even if you want to. I don’t apologize for sharing it. WARNING: Reader discretion is advised.

What I’ve learned from reading thousands of reviews

  • Consider the price range/reviewer audience. If a low-end product has five stars, it’s probably really good for being low end. Don’t purchase it expecting it to be as good as its high-end counterparts.
  • Some people complain about the process instead of the product. For this reason, I don’t just look at the number of stars, but I read the reviews themselves. Some people will complain about the shipping or packaging, which aren’t knocks on the product, but the process itself. It takes a little more time to read the reviews, but it makes all the difference.
  • Make sure the item has multiple reviews. One 5-star or 1-star review isn’t usually reliable. Just like data is more reliable when more people have been surveyed, so it is with reviews.

Are we the only ones who have to read at least 20 reviews before making a purchase, or are there other crazies like us out there? Show yourselves! This is a judgement-free zone.

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  • Reply Brian February 28, 2014 at 7:38 am

    I enjoy a good revied. Of course the most EPIC review every is for the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt on amazon (pretty sure everyone has read this one by now, if not, you are welcome!).

    I find it also helps to see if the reviewer has reviewed multiple things. Some people are just jerks and find fault with everything and those people cannot be trusted.

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      The Three Wolf Moon shirt changed my life. When our grandchildren read the great literary works of our generation, no list will be complete without it.

      Good call on trusting reviewers with multiple reviews.

  • Reply Cate M. February 28, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I usually read a lot of reviews before I order anything online; I like to know what I’m getting myself into. However, I recently discovered that there are companies out there that offer to write good reviews for items in return for money…

    Huge let-down, but I think if you read enough reviews you can get an accurate picture.

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Yep, I’ve heard about that, too. I don’t think it’s nearly as prominent on Amazon, but I feel like half the reviews I read on Yelp are written by competing businesses. Lameee.

  • Reply Carla February 28, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I usually read negative reviews first. You can tell pretty quickly if negative reviewers have valid or relevant complaints, and if they do, I usually won’t buy. If I decide the complaints aren’t valid or relevant, I’ll look at positive reviews to get a better feel for the features and ins and outs. I’ve saved tons of money this way because I’m avoiding the “sales pitches” of the positive reviews before learning about the downside, so there’s less mental bias.

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      I think subconsciously this is where I start, too, but I’d never noticed until you mentioned it. It’s usually easier to see if any of my main concerns (weird fit, cheap materials, not as advertised, etc.) are validated quickly. And if so, I’ll move right along.

  • Reply Gaia February 28, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Like Carla, I too read the negative reviews first. Since I am thinking about buying the product, I am already positively inclined towards it, so I need to get the other side of the story. and yes, I rely on reviews all.the.time, They have been so very useful that I try to pay it back by reviewing in turn everything I have bought, and giving the kind of information that helped me when I bought the product. Reviews Rule!!

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      You’re totally right about the positive inclination. The worst thing in the world is getting super wrapped up on a certain product that you’ve been eyeing for a while, only to find out the reviews are lackluster. But I dig the negative first system.

  • Reply Alice @ Earning My Two Cents February 28, 2014 at 10:09 am

    My mom also will spend hours reading over the reviews on Tripadvisor before she selects a hotel. You can learn very important specifics from the reviews such as whether there is loud construction next door and whether they have a continental breakfast included. Sometimes you can even get a review that lists all the food they have for the breakfast. No surprises here.

    Also, if you like Amazon reviews then you’ll love this: http://www.amazon.com/The-Mountain-Three-Short-Sleeve/product-reviews/B002HJ377A

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      TripAdvisor is incredible for that kind of stuff! Multiple times I’ve been about to book a sweet hotel deal, only to read a review on TA about construction or renovation and a less than desirable stay. TripAdvisor reviewers are generally awesome!

      As I mentioned above to Brian, that review belongs in a museum of the greatest prose of the 21st century.

  • Reply Amanda February 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I always have to read reviews, too, and I feel a bit obsessive about it. I am glad to know I am not alone. The thing I feel guilty about? I NEVER write reviews of products I buy.

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Haha. Joanna and I just talked about that — we enjoy the fruits of other reviewers’ labors and never give back. That’s pretty awful. We should probably be better about that if we keep relying so heavily on others’ input.

  • Reply Kasey @ Debt Perception February 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I have a new wish list item! Thanks so much for sharing the breakfast sandwich maker!! I never knew anything like that existed! I’ve failed miserably at trying to make the eggs for a breakfast sandwich in the microwave on multiple occasions. I think I need to get that when I acquire enough Tango (Amazon) gift cards from doing surveys online!
    In the past few years, our online shopping has increased significantly so we always read reviews…it’s great finding the occasional sarcastic ones that make you laugh!

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Isn’t that thing amazing. Three or so weeks in and we still love that thing. And if you do buy it, Kilgore’s reviews are a MUST read. That guy has mastered the art of breakfast-sandwich-maker-ing.

  • Reply Miranda February 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I”m more likely to read a lot of reviews for a more ‘expensive’ purchase ($50+). I don’t worry so much about smaller purchases unless there is a crappy return policy.

    Please tell my you guys have read the reviews for lady pens…

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Good call on expensive vs. cheap. As the price goes up, so does my purchase research time (and Joanna’s frustration with me for not pulling the trigger :)).

      Haha. I have. And it never gets old. The best part is that people just keep adding comedy gold reviews. It’s a never-ending joke.

    • Reply Kelly March 5, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      Bought the sandwich maker! I hope you posts some recipes soon, lol – just kidding! Can’t wait to use it tomorrow! I had Amazon credits and it only cost $11.00.

      • Reply Joanna March 6, 2014 at 12:50 am

        Sweet! Welcome to the ranks of breakfast-sandwich-maker owners! Kilgore Trout’s review will be handier than the instructions when you get it in the mail :).

  • Reply Tarynkay February 28, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    My husband obsessively reads reviews. He reads consumer reports for everything, too (available for free through most libraries!) This is great for big purchases, like our stove. It is annoying for small purchases, like our measuring cups.

    There are things that you don’t want to read the reviews of. I nearly made myself crazy reading reviews of Popsicle molds. I finally accepted that all Popsicle molds will eventually break or stick in some annoying way. We live in a fallen world. Popsicle molds are cheap. I went to Target, bought a set for $2 and went home and made some Popsicles. When this mold breaks, I will go and buy another one. C’est la vie.

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Good call on consumer reports at the library! I never even thought about that.

      “We live in a fallen world.” That’s amazing. And thank you for the perspective… even if it doesn’t Joanna from looking up popsicle mold reviews. 🙂

  • Reply Julie February 28, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    I do this all. the. time. No major purchase is made without scouring the interwebz for reviews. And the few times that I’ve made a quick (though still well-researched) purchase seems inherently wrong since I did not spend hours agonizing over a decision.

    But I can guarantee that most of our purchases are better because of all the research. In spite of the teasing of family and friends.

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:36 pm

      That’s what I’d like to think. I can’t remember the last time that we disagreed with the general consensus of fellow reviewers. Power to the people!

  • Reply Allison March 1, 2014 at 12:19 am

    I thought I Was the only one with OCRRS (Obsessive Compulsive Review Reading Syndrome)!
    When you are living on a budget you definitely rely on reviews to help you make a wise purchase and some are just so darn helpful. The types of info I find most helpful are ones that include stuff not mentioned in the descriptions. Like, “this stroller fit in my Camry” or the description read 100% silicone, yet the box did not state thiis”. Those type of things make reading through the 300+ reviews all worth it. Time consuming yes, but I feel it has allowed us to get better quality products on a budget. Also, in situations where we are limited to what’s available in our local stores and when we need to make a purchase more quickly than we are used to (i.e. the fridge dies) then we can at least read reviews in store while shopping.

    Now, I have to ask if you’ve heard about the Warehouse Deals @ Amazon section? Mind. Blowing. 🙂

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      OCRRS! That belongs on WebMD.

      I’ve only spent a limited time on Warehouse Deals, but after opening it up just now, I realize it’s grown a lot since the last time I checked it out. Super rad. Thanks for paying the savings forward!

  • Reply Heather March 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Seth just discovered the breakfast sandwich maker last week and added it to his wish list. He is SO EXCITED that this product exists. I thought he was an anomaly, but apparently people actually want this product. How do you like it?

    Also, why are you opposed to Levar Burton commenting on your blog? Is it because he is a secret German?

    • Reply Johnny March 4, 2014 at 10:48 pm

      He’ll be that much more excited when he’s plugging it in, reading Kilgore’s reviews, and enjoying a hearty breakfast sandwich.

      Plain and simple: LeVar’s awesomeness would break our site. And that wouldn’t be awesome. So to avoid that, we don’t let him comment here.

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