Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reviews? Or just complaints?

The new house is coming along, we close next Wednesday, but in the meantime I've had some obligatory appliance shopping to get a refrigerator, washer and dryer, all of which were necessary since it's a new house.

When buying big-ticket items, it always pays to check reviews and to take into account quality and value, at least as much as you take price into consideration. Finding reviews of tech items is usually fairly simple in this electronic age, everyone has an opinion, and usually you can find a fair share of objective ones. But appliances still tend to be trapped in a previous era, as what are touted as "online reviews" tend to be nothing more than an online complaint department.

Herein lies the problem: people who have issues are exponentially more likely to write a "review" than those who are completely satisfied with their products. Given a large enough sample of reviews, I tend to relate it to about a 5:1 ratio of poor reviews to good reviews -- for every 5 customers complaining, there is 1 customer praising. If the actual results are skewed one way or another, then I consider that a significant trend. If I go online and see 12 reviews, 10 of which are complaints, and 2 of which are praising the product, then I consider it a wash and there's probably no *real* widespread problem with the product or the manufacturer.

It's just difficult to sort it all out sometime, especially when the overally quantity is so few. I was looking for reviews on a GE refrigerator I was looking at, found about 6 reviews over the course of 2 years, all of which were negative, usually with comments to the effect of "GE sucks, never buy from GE again." I think I'd give them a bit more weight if the review was more subjective, but it was nothing but people who no doubt has legitimate problems with their fridges, and probably had bad experiences getting their problems resolved, but then trying to generalize to all products that was the case. I consider GE probably sells tens-of-thousands of refrigerators each year, and only 6 complaints over 2 years? Doesn't seem significant to me.

I have found that there are reliable, and objective, reviews and comparisons out there to be seen. Magazines such as Consumer Reports, or various online websites that really ask the right questions (pros/cons of various models, issues, etc.) Certainly there are some brands that tend to be more reliable than others, but I guess I'll just make it up as I go and hope what I want actually works.

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