Opinion

How trustworthy are reviews of online services

C Anirvinna | Updated on November 15, 2019 Published on November 15, 2019

While cab aggregators compel customers to provide feedback, they seldom post negative reviews. Other e-commerce players don’t set store by reviews that much

There is no doubt that technology has brought much comfort to customers. But there are two aspects that continue to provoke and test the patience of customers. The first one is frequent app updates, without which the consumer would be deprived of immediate access to the latest features. And, second — and the more annoying — is the pressure and compulsion to review.

This is especially true with regard to cab aggregators such as Ola, where one is forced to give a review to avail oneself of the next ride. A customer cannot book a cab without giving the feedback of his/her previous ride. The cab aggregator might say that feedbacks will help address the safety and security concerns of passengers, and also empower them to take necessary action against erring drivers.

Customer feedback

The question before us is that if someone is in a great hurry to book a ride, then why are they being forced to give feedback of their previous ride, and why not give a choice to skip the process? Is the customer-feedback mechanism being used by cab aggregators to provide incentives to the drivers?

There is no compulsion to rely on feedback or reviews in the case of other service providers such as Swiggy, Zomato, Amazon, and Flipkart. Even in the case of banking industry products and services the same holds good. By forcing the customer to give feedback, cab aggregators are strangely taking a path different from those followed by other e-commerce businesses in the marketplace.

Let there be a provision that a customer who does not give a feedback, is treated as giving a positive feedback, indicating that he was happy with the service provided. There are many online products that have only few reviews, which seems to suggests that fewer customers have bought the product. It could be that the general buyer is simply disinterested although he may be quite happy with the product. That’s the flip-side of this argument: a blank-space could mean either a positive or a negative response — the ambiguity is implicit in that blank-space, which can be misused.

Astonishingly, there are several products on Amazon or Flipkart which have hardly been reviewed and yet they keep advertising that the stock is running out. What could be more misleading for the customer who has been searching online for that particular item? It is obvious that a customer will be more willing to give a negative feedback if the quality of the product or service is bad.

Why rating matters

If that is the case, why cannot the same logic be employed for cab aggregators as well? What is the incentive for the customers for giving feedback on a product or service? A typical cab driver or a third-party seller requests for a good rating for obvious reasons, which can be counterproductive. Having a high volume of reviews is crucial for sellers because it helps to improve conversion rates. This also help in sorting the algorithm in order to prioritise their products on the search results of sites like Amazon.

Also, why should e-commerce players allow a customer to post the review for a product without actually purchasing it? Sure, a ‘verified purchase’ tag is there, but it takes only one negative review to put customers off. On the other hand, the food aggregators do not allow others to post comments about its service.

If there should be an incentive for customers for giving feedback on the product or service, then it logically follows that they must be rewarded for the negative feedback as well. Google Opinion Rewards allows users to answer surveys and earn cash rewards. It offers dual benefits for Google to expand its own ecosystem by nudging the customers towards using those cash rewards to buy paid apps on its own app store, as well as helping its business partners in growing their own businesses.

Swiggy and Zomato, among others, are now blocking customer accounts for giving positive feedbacks to poorly-rated restaurants. Amazon takes action against customers who deliberately post false reviews regarding their products. It also stopped incentivising reviews for the customers since 2016.

The writer is an Associate Professor, TAPMI School of Business, Manipal University, Jaipur. The views are personal

 

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Published on November 15, 2019
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