A collage of a person inside a T&N Mattress Box

A World Without Reviews

February 27, 2020

Author: Josie Sivigny

Welcome to the review world—a mix of confusion, frustration, and, sometimes, misinformation. From this mix, there’s come a slew of industry leaders, touting the most thoroughly vetted, true reviews possible. Companies all across the web have rolled out verified-purchaser badges and have identified incentive-based and/or free product reviews, so does it all appear to be fixed? Yes?

No. That was sarcasm.

But I’m getting really ahead of myself. Rather than snowball into a rant on this stuff, let’s start with the most important question I ask myself:

How should I read reviews?

The answer is: you shouldn’t just give them a surface read. Dig a little deeper and—dare I suggest—trust your instincts. We are businesses, trying to sell things. There’s a ton of detail in there, so we’ll start with the easy stuff first and get more in-depth from there. Sound good?

1. Start with one-star reviews.

Think about your next purchase. Now, Google that item. Go to the website of the company that makes the product and filter by the one-star reviews. We’ll use the Tuft & Needle Original Mattress for our visual guide. Navigate to the most recent one-star review for the product. When I did this for the T&N Original Mattress, the review was seven days prior.

Photo of a Tuft & Needle 1 star Review

When I did this activity for fellow mattress brand Nectar Sleep, it had been MONTHS since they had received a one-star review.* If that doesn’t make you pause, maybe it should. Is it possible for a major brand to go nearly a year—a year during which Nectar was projected to have roughly $400 million in sales—without receiving a single one-star review? Perhaps. Unlikely, but anything is possible.

*Information gathered from the relevant product pages on Nectarsleep.com as of February 5th, 2020.

It’s important to be cognizant of review etiquette by the companies from which you’re considering a product purchase, so hopefully this step helps you find what you’re looking for. I hope it’s honesty.

2. Move to three-star reviews

As suggested in the brilliantly written Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews, Caroline Beaton of the New York Times asks where the truth lies in most online reviews. “Try to find ones that are closer to the median,” suggests Lauren Dragan, audio tech product reviewer for Wirecutter.

This is where people get really real. They’re neither satisfied or dissatisfied, but somewhere in the middle. Three-star reviews are the place I personally feel the most comfortable, because I tend to find people who feel similarly to how I do about a product. They’re neither satisfied, nor dissatisfied. It’s good, but there are always some drawbacks worth noting that could have to do with the actual product itself, a delivery option, or the general customer experience.

3. Keep your eyes peeled for badges

Review sites will often accept non-purchase-related feedback from reviewers, but require a badge indicating the review type. There are three options here:

  1. Verified Buyer
  2. Top Reviewer
  3. Received Free Product

The first two should be considered indications of credibility, but the third can sometimes be a cause for concern.

Read: the badge is worth investigating.

    Characture drawing with the word Concern over a man's face

Actual picture of me concerned when a product has nothing but “Received Free Product” reviews.

Let’s say you see three reviews slapped with the “Received Free Product” badge on the first page of a product’s reviews. How long does the list go on? It’s easy to miss, but you could potentially be shopping a product that hasn’t received a single review from consumers like you — normal people who don’t make a living off reviewing products, you know? Just the average consumer trying to figure out if a product is right for them.

These reviews talk about key qualities most consumers are looking for in a review, but it’s vital you remember one important detail about the “Received Free Product” badge review. They literally didn’t pay any money for that product, but you will.

Do with this information as you wish. :)

4. Keep your sources balanced

I’d love nothing more than to completely trust reviews straight from a brand’s website or other asset, but we don’t live in a world where we can bank on them. I realize the contradiction in my statement — I’m basically telling you to not buy from us, yet. Let’s hope I don’t jeopardize my career with saying something so outlandish, but it’s true.

Don’t just take our word for it. Visit trusted third parties such as the Better Business Bureau, maybe a magazine or other publication you trust, or even a source such as Consumer Reports, which does its best to make sure their reviews are reflective of the tone and opinions of actual consumers. If you don’t know much about Consumer Reports, you can read more about their process here.

There’s a slew of information you can access at the push of a button (or click of a mouse). All I ask is you don’t settle for what’s coming up as the top result in your first Google search. Start there, but take it further to publications dedicated to delivering well-balanced information about the products you’re shopping for.

Oh, and before I forget, religiously stalk your brands on social media. Scroll through their feed and scan the comments on recent and past posts. What do you see? Are the commenters interacting with the post, or are they talking about something totally different? Business profiles often field customer service and product complaints on their social media accounts—Instagram, especially. GO THERE! You could find some comments you weren’t expecting, that may be painting a completely different picture than what you thought the brand stood for.

How can I leave a good review?

Well the first step is this: LEAVE ONE. I love reading our customer reviews and I swear to you I’m not the only one at my company who enjoys doing so. I could name five employees off the top of my head who are constantly reading our customer reviews. Good ones, bad ones, neutral ones, and even confusing ones. Take this review left on our Mattress Protector:

  Photo of 5 star Tuft & Needle Review

Let’s all just be glad that wasn’t our situation to deal with.

These reviews don’t only crack me up, but they open my mind up to the quality and versatility of our products and why we make them in the first place. In a million years, I wouldn’t think a mattress protector would be useful in a skunk scenario—we have not conducted an in-house smell test—but it’s great to hear it worked out for this customer. Because of this review, I know our protector is skunk proof. Reviews tell tell us stories we don’t expect to hear. Whether positive or negative, we want this kind of feedback. It’s how we fix things that are broken, send praise to those who’ve spent months developing the product, and keep an honest, open dialogue with our customers.

If you were looking for a listicle of actions you can take when leaving a review, here it is:

  • Leave photos
  • Put something descriptive in the title like “Beats X Competitor out of the water”, “I ditched my {insert product} for this”or “Don’t get all the hype”
  • Be funny (see skunk example above)
  • Say how you really feel (we won’t let it hurt our feelings)
  • Only answer the questions for which you have a response
  • Use an appropriate username
  • Make sure you submit the review

Some of you reading this are probably thinking, “I never left my review!” Whether that’s with us or some other company, you can easily get set up with a new review link. This process is probably very similar for other companies, but reach out to support@tuftandneedle.com and we’ll make sure your review gets out to the masses.

We want a transparent review process, and we know we won’t be able to do that without your help. If you have suggestions for how we can better create an environment that makes you feel more at ease with reviews, I’d love to hear your ideas. Let’s fix this dang thing. Here’s my contact info: tylern@tuftandneedle.com

Cheers and happy reviewing.

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