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Trusting online reviews. Is it not just like getting into a stranger’s car?

It’s interesting to think how much we rely on the opinions of strangers when looking to splash the cash. You wouldn’t get into a stranger’s car, so why trust what they have to say online? After all, they could be anyone…

But online reviews are an important element within the customer journey towards purchasing a product or service. Particularly for expensive products such as a car or the latest technology; what other users say about an item could make or break a decision to buy.

Research finds that 79% of us are just as likely to trust online reviews as we are to trust personal recommendations. This may seem a bit odd; putting as much trust in the opinion of a stranger as we are to put in to the view of a friend or relative.

Arguably, social media has placed a greater influence on online reviews. Customers are now more connected to one another than ever before, and are always sharing their experiences with products, whether it’s on Twitter or on an online review site. So why do we trust the views of those we don’t know?

One of the main reasons – in fact, probably the biggest reason – is because it’s often perceived that these views are less likely to be biased. Whereas companies will push marketing messages to their target audience telling them how great their product is, online reviews are more likely to be truthful as they come from the end user; a third party. AsTom Fishburne puts it in his post on the matter: “online reviews narrow the gap between what marketers promise and what the brand delivers. They keep brands honest.”

It also boils down to a sense of community; groups of people who we’re more likely to trust as we have similar characteristics and share common interests with them. American Express’ partnership with TripAdvisor is a great example of this. It’s the latest ploy by the financial services company to extend its brand value beyond the traditional normal of finance by allowing cardmembers to review hotels and restaurants and presenting other cardmembers a list of recommended “hot spots”. What works well with his example is that rather than being just another mass-market review site where reviews can be submitted by anyone, anywhere; only Amex’s cardmember community can contribute. It’s like giving an Amex seal of approval.

While dipping in to online reviews is becoming a key step in the decision making process, customers must remember that not everything they read online can be trusted. Reading online reviews should only form part of a purchase decision. Nothing beats going in store and testing a product first, speaking to the experts, and forming your own opinion.