So, I’ve received several rather unfavorable comments about Costco.com’s new user reviews. And more importantly, how much people dislike it. It seems that people are upset about the wait time before reviews start showing up online, they feel like they’re screening for only good reviews, that they might be removing reviews, and in general how much of a disservice Costco is doing to its customers. So, I decided to look into it.
Turns out that the Costco.com policy on reviews is a little odd, and not really in line with other retailers or places that offer user reviews. They require that there be at least three reviews made for an item before they will show any reviews for it. So, if you buy something that doesn’t have reviews, you and two other people will need to submit reviews before any of them show up. Why, you might ask. I did just that, putting the question to the online customer service people, and here is the response that I got:
We work to ensure that our items have more than 1 review to provide our members with a range of experiences and opinions to assist them in making their purchase decisions.
While I can see what they are trying to achieve with this, I don’t really agree that it is a good idea. I think this is going to lead to confusion by the first two reviewers, not as many shoppers will find useful reviews before making purchases, and also it makes it look like they have far fewer people posting reviews on their site. And, from the comments I’ve gotten I’d say that is certainly the case. Not to mention, even one review can be useful if it contains a good piece of information that might be helpful to anyone buying the item. As is the case for one complaint I received from a reader here, Todd, who sent a polite email to the customer service people regarding his comment not showing up:
This is an expensive item that requires assembly. By waiting for the third review to arrive before you post anything, you do a disservice to your members. Please reconsider this policy for expensive items that require assembly. The info I provided will be crucial to folks purchasing this item. I rated the item 5 stars but provided important information people who purchase this item will need to know upon receipt.
You risk returns if you don’t allow informative reviews to be posted immediately upon review instead of holding them until you have 3 reviews.
Todd certainly raises an excellent point about how helpful reviews can be, even if there are just one or two users doing the reviewing. Most people are used to reading reviews on a myriad of sites now, so you pretty quickly develop the ability to pick out the useful details and weigh them with your own opinions. I mean, they are someone’s opinion and everyone recognizes that, so I’m not really sure why Costco doesn’t get that and assumes that if you see just one or two reviews you will base your whole decision on those opinions. Meanwhile, people could be missing out on useful little tidbits or better product descriptions or explanations than the product information provides online because they hold off on posting reviews.
I wanted to see how clearly they convey this policy to a user that is making a comment on a product with no posted reviews. Not so well, as it turns out. The only place they mention it is in some little text in the right-hand column under the heading “Review writing notes’; this would easily be missed or overlooked by someone that has written reviews before or someone that can easily discern from the form what they are supposed to do. For me this is kind of bad policy mixed with bad usability. If they were my usability client, I would suggest that they put something at the top of the page, or in line with the form fields regarding this policy on reviews that do not have posted reviews. Easy to do, and then you can head off user confusion about why their review is not showing up, not to mention you’d really cut down on customer support emails and complaints.
I also asked the customer support people about Tampa Slim’s issue of having a review removed. They claim that no review is ever removed once it has been approved and posted on Costco.com. Here’s what they say:
I’ve seen a number of one star reviews at Costco.com, so I do believe that they actually follow through and post really negative reviews. Almost everything I’ve looked at that has had reviews, has had at least one, and sometimes more, one star review. Here’s a good example of a product that has been reviewed unfavorably, it’s got ratings from one to five stars, but most of the reviews only give it two stars.
However, do they keep negative reviews up forever? I’m not sure because I haven’t caught them removing negative reviews or changing them or anything like that. I’d like to think that Costco would not go down that road, that they would not take part in something so ethically dodgy.
I’m curious how most people view user reviews. I know when I go to a site that has them, I will look through them and try to get the general feeling about the item – good or bad – taking into account how many reviews have been posted. I also throw out any outliers that sound like they either work for the company or the competition or are totally crazy (you know you’ve read these types of reviews). Most people just want to help out other would-be purchasers by giving their opinion, good or bad, of the products they’ve used. And most people that are reading the reviews, just want a little more information before they make a purchase.
In the end, I’d have to say that the review of Costco.com Reviews is at about 2.5 stars for me at the moment: not great and a little below middle of the road. It’s could be better if they would just let all reviews be posted, within their Terms of Service guidelines of course, and not wait until there are three or more reviews before any are posted. And why do they need three? Maybe just two would be sufficient because if there are two people that have the same problems, wouldn’t that be useful? And if there are two people that have completely opposing views, what is to say that the third person will clear it all up with their review? I just feel like Costco has made a bit of a mistake with this policy. Since they are new to the review game, they really should have done a little research into policies used by other online retailers and sites that offer user reviews. I’m pretty sure if they had done that they would have realized that most places do not wait for three reviews and that users would not expect a completely different set of rules at Costco.com. This is especially true because they do not clearly post on the review form page that they require three reviews before any will be posted.
For now we can all hope that they’ll think about changing the policy if they keep receiving negative emails about it.