In the last decade or so, online reviews have become an integral part of the consumer buying process. It's fair to say that these days most people don't book a holiday without browsing TripAdvisor first. Reviews have become important in our sector, too. They help home buyers to identify the right conveyancer or removals firm for them.
However, as with most internet-related services, online reviews certainly have their detractors.
But while online reviews continue to be used by millions as a source of information on a daily basis, they'll be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Investigation into review websites
So why are we writing about online reviews now? Well, they were back in the headlines this month when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) - the government body which took over from the Office of Fair Trading – announced some preliminary results of its on-going investigation in to online review websites.
The CMA announced that it has updated its guidance for review providers and said it had worked with five care home and DIY/trade recommendation sites to improve their online review systems.
The competition watchdog said these measures were part of its wider investigation into online reviews, which many people believe will cover some of the many home-moving and property-related review sites available to consumers.
The potential for genuine negative reviews not to be published, websites not checking reviews rigorously enough and important information not being brought to the attention of users are the CMA's three main concerns regarding the sector.
Nisha Arora, the CMA's Senior Director of Consumer, commented: “Millions of people look at online reviews and endorsements before making buying decisions, and so it is crucial that review websites check and present reviews in a way that ensures consumers can trust them.”
The pros and cons of online reviews
Online reviews have attracted controversy and engendered polar viewpoints for a few years now, but it's quite clear they remain extremely popular as millions of consumers use them before committing to a purchase.
Their popularity can be shown by the stats. TripAdvisor, the best-known review site, is the 45th most visited website in the UK, according to Alexa. According to the CMA’s report in February 2016
, some sites have been asked to "improve the information that is given to users about how reviews are collected, checked and published, building on their existing practices.”
Online reviews can be extremely useful for consumers to narrow down their shortlist of options and also to see instant feedback on something they're thinking of purchasing.
They often provide a good cross section of comments and themes, meaning the modern consumer is arguably more informed than ever before.
Problems arise when reviews encourage business owners to get into unsavoury online spats with disgruntled customers, something which can be seen regularly on Trip Advisor.
And, of course, there is the fear of fake reviews and those which are deliberately vicious and disingenuous.
From our point of view, online reviews are a good thing but they must be honestly administered and not open to manipulation.
The CMA's concerns are justified and we welcome its investigation in the hope that it will help to make sure that online reviews are made only by validated customers.
Here at reallymoving.com, we have a database of thousands of reviews left by customers who have used the services of our recommended partners.
We take reviews seriously: investigating negative feedback and asking for evidence for any reviews that we're suspicious of.