Consumer Review Websites: Pros & Cons

A.W. Hastings’ Integrity Brand Manager Sandra Stoughton reviews the pros and cons of the consumer review website, Angie’s List and provides an unbiased recommendation on how to use it for your business.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently diving into information around consumer review websites. The consensus among most of the articles and surveys I’ve found (and my own personal inquiries to friends and family) is that consumers are giving review sites the same level of trust that they give to friend and family recommendations. This made me question my own buying behaviors and what I do when looking at a large purchase, or even just a review on a new restaurant – and sure enough, I’m just the same. I go to the online sites like Yelp, or YahooLocal for the real “dirt”; more often than not, I even skip over asking my own friends and family for input! (Though, they certainly do play a role in purchase decisions).

angieslistWhat I’m seeing is there is power in these review sites. In the building materials industry in recent years, remodelers and home improvement retailers are in high demand given the uptick in remodeling activity. Because of this, I took a much closer look at the well known consumer review site, Angie’s List.

Angie Hicks

Angie Hicks

We all know Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks’ face. She is in every advertising spot they place – and Angie’s List is a marketing machine with advertising on television, radio spots and direct mail. They’ve effectively marketed themselves around the image of the “average consumer” seeking reviews you can trust™.  Angie’s List (AL) is based on a unique model where consumers PAY for a membership fee, which gives him/her the ability to review local businesses and services. Members can comment on businesses and rate them on the following criteria: price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality and professionalism, or which AL then assigns them a “grade” of A through F. AL lists all types of businesses including doctors, contractors, and even small service businesses like pet sitting.

AL also offers businesses free listings on their site – marketing this as the way they keep their reviews genuine. Because businesses do not pay, but members do pay, they consider the quality of the review to be more honest and truthful. Businesses are encouraged to monitor, review and respond to all reviews on their site; AL even provides a mobile app for businesses to make the response time that much quicker.

Sample of search results based on grade and number of reviews.

Sample of search results

All sounds good, right? There are of course some questions, because the service can’t be foolproof. How does AL avoid fake reviews?  (example: I’m reviewing my cousin’s bakery favorably to help them achieve higher scores). AL claims that it has a strong screening process for each posted review where experts evaluate the review for any “clues” that this might be an imposter. Then there’s also the question: What if my business is not on Angie’s List? Are you losing business because you haven’t set up a business page? Or, if you do set up a business page, are you chancing bad reviews, and will that hurt your business?

There is also a value to having a business page – AL allows businesses to market directly to members who have indicated an interest in their specific types of services, creating a more targeted approach. For example, a remodeler may choose to market to members who have indicated that they are interested in home remodeling services. AL also offers a service where they will take a business’s customer list and match it to their existing member database (this is referred to as the FETCH program). For any of those that match as a member, AL will reach out personally and ask the customer to review the business. This is a helpful way to build your business page easily with reviews.   There are additional services that AL offers to businesses, but all for a cost. We all know nothing is truly “free.”

My evaluation: At a minimum, businesses need to be aware of their presence on AL and keep an updated page. You of course chance negative reviews, but everyone is entitled to an opinion. It’s all in how you respond to the review in that public forum. Above all, if you’re looking to get feedback from your customers, don’t rely on review sites to post these comments – instead elicit those testimonials on your own and place them on your own site.

So, in sum, take a moment to take a look at your business presence on AL – what are your customers saying about you, and is there an opportunity here for new business and new customers? You might find that it’s an opportunity worth exploring!

-Sandra Stoughton
Integrity Brand Manager  

Sandra Stoughton

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