Recently while researching a vacation package I was considering booking, I noticed that while all of the customer reviews about the destinations, tour guides and mechanics of the trip were glowing, there were a few people who gave poor ratings for reasons that didn't seem like the travel company's fault: Their flight was cancelled so they missed a day; they got food poisoning so couldn't enjoy a tour; or they hadn't purchased travel insurance so they couldn't get a refund when they could no longer embark on the trip.
It didn't seem to me those experiences should necessarily be considered in ratings of the trip package itself. I was mainly looking for safety tips in the reviews, so the few naysayers didn't sway my decision. But an overall low rating for the package definitely would have made me reconsider.
This tendency to negatively review products for things outside of the manufacturer's control is much more apparent on a site like Amazon, where people will leave a one-star rating for books they haven't read or because the package got destroyed in transit. And an article published today in the New York Times confirms my suspicions: Basically, you can't trust negative online reviews. At the very least, you should take them with a heaping spoonful or two of salt.
According to the Times, because there are comparatively few negative reviews as compared to positive reviews, we give more weight to the negative ones, even though we probably shouldn't. Reading the negative reviews makes us feel that we're getting the full picture about something before we spend our hard-earned dollars on it, particularly the worst-case scenario.
Another point of interest: A 2014 study published by The Journal of Marketing Research found that online reviewers "are more likely to buy things in unusual sizes, make returns, be married, have more children, be younger and less wealthy, and have graduate degrees than the average consumer." And only around 1.5 per cent of people leave reviews, according to Duncan Simester, a marketing professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and the author of the study. Should we really take their word for it?
The article also notes that when it comes to travel reviews, whom the commenter vacationed with plays a big role in how they rate the trip.
A study published last fall in Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, looking at 125,076 online reviews, found that people travelling with significant others wrote the most positive reviews, followed by those travelling with friends or family. Reviewers travelling alone or for business were the most negative. Our experiences change depending on our expectations, travel expertise and who we're with.
Luckily, I'm travelling with a close friend. Once we're back, I'll be sure to give you my rating.
Why You Can't Really Trust Negative Online Reviews [The New York Times]