Product Reviews #1: How to Read a Product Review

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Blog entry by RouterManiac posted 09-24-2009 01:42 PM 15368 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I have read a lot of product reviews over the years. I also offer product reviews for the products we sell, as well as use them on blogs and articles to help people with buying choices. It did occur to me that sometimes people can be skewed towards buying or not buying something because of the way the product review is written. When I sat down to look at some factors that I take for granted, I was compelled to put this article together. I hope you find it helpful. It is slanted towards the woodworking industry, particularly routers and router tables. I think you will find that the mindset or theme will work for any type of product.

When reading a review right off the bat I think of these main areas of the person that is leaving the review. These are the main areas in which we will discuss.
• Shipping
• Expectations
• Experience/Inexperience
• Customer Service
• Emotion
• Assembly
• Use period
• Manufacture or Vendor Mindset

This is the first subject that usually gets a lot of comments on. Let me begin with this statement. “I really understand the shipping process” I have worked in this industry at one time and I have seen every aspect from a package getting from point A to point B. If there is one thing that is a constant in the universe it is this, shipping companies damage boxes. There is no way around it, and sooner or later it will happen to you. Manufacturers design their packaging around the fact that it is rough world when your package gets picked up and on to your destination. You have to consider the sort facility and the way things get handled. Speed is the ultimate theme and shippers go by how many packages they sort out each night. Being careful is a goal but not always the golden rule. So when an item comes damaged, most vendors jump through hoops to help you replace the item or fix the problem. It is a headache, and if they can design a box to relieve that headache, they most certainly will because it reduces their replacement costs. So any comments on shipping damage really need to be taken with a grain of salt.

This is a sensitive area, since it is closely tied to emotion. I will try to tread lightly, but I will be blunt in some areas in order for the reader to get the most out of this content. When it comes to power tools, some people just do not have any experience and some have extensive experience. It is hard to figure out who is who when you are reading a review. To be honest, some people have no business owning a power tool, yet they go to great lengths in leaving some scathing reviews. Others have a perfectionist type of view that can give you some great insight about the product. Some are Engineer types that can go into great detail and offer design changes that they think would make the product better. So how do you approach this problem? I think the best way to evaluate it is by simply knowing the fact that there are different levels of experience out there and everyone is entitled to their opinion. You just never really know who you are talking too when reading a review or getting advice from someone, you just have to use your gut feeling.

Some reviews are written in sense of an expectation of that product that has either been met or not. If you expected a product to be of a certain design or quality and it is not, your expectations have not been met. Most people draw from this and use it in their review. Another avenue of this thought is that people write about their experience based on using the item right away. Perhaps the tool met their expectation right away but then they quickly grew out of it or moved on in their skill level. The media also has tremendous influence on what our expectations are for products. Most of the time this is based on mass appeal and it’s designed to do one thing and one thing only and that is to sell you the product. Just because someone says they are an expert does not necessarily mean it is true.

Customer Service
Customer service is often commented on but it has some bearing in some instances. For example if you are speaking directly to the manufacture themselves, then customer service can be influential. If you are speaking to a distributor of a product, then how they handle your service situation is up to them and only reflects on their company, website or business, not necessarily the product. This can skew some reviews. Of course good customer service can always be a positive factor, it is really the product you are reviewing not your buying experience. Someone should make a service about that!

I choose to add this section because I have seen overtones of this that leak into reviews. Emotion is powerful and sometimes it is hard to shake a pre conceived concept. That concept is from the old “mail order” days when the industry was brand new. Most “mail order” companies sold junk and it was all about conversion ratios and quotas. Today most companies and vendors realize that Internet sales are a huge part of their business and a great way to reach out to customers from all over the world. So here is a concept that I and most good companies embrace. The sooner customers and the general public figure it out the better. (This is the blunt part I was talking about)

Companies want and need to take care of their customers for a very good reason. If you become a customer once, there is a good chance that you will buy from us again. If you buy from us again, you reduce the cost of acquiring a new customer and that improves the amount of money a company makes. Bottom line: if you are my customer, I want you to buy from me over and over again. This is how we stay alive.
I have no interest in making you mad, or delivering a poor product, that would be stupid and go against the business plan. If you are happy, then my life is easy. If you are mad, my day sucks. I like stress free days, so it is in my best interest in doing a good job so that you come back. Assembly
I thought it was worth mentioning that assembly can be part of the product review formula. Let’s face it, there is a new problem alive and well today and it is most irritating. That problem is the lack of good clear and concise directions. Remember when software use to come with a book on how to use it? Now day’s vendors think it is ok to be vague. I am not sure who thought this was a way to save money or not, but it is irritating. I think directions are an influence but not always the deciding factor. It is worth noting that not everyone is good at the obvious. (Blunt I know) but I am amazed at how often that putting Tab A into Slot B eludes some people.

Manufacture Mindset
Product companies have a mindset of selling product and making goals. Part of the goals is keeping replacement costs down by good design and good techniques. It is just about as simple as that. Some Brands are better at it than others; those are the ones that last in the industry. Look for manufacturers that embrace this concept by developing their authority. Most good companies really enjoy happy customers.

I hope this has helped you with interpreting customer reviews. It was intended in teaching you how to write one, but more of an education of how people write them for the world to see. The one thing about the Internet, comments stay forever and reputations are made and broken over time. Getting a good assessment of a product can sometimes be harder than you thought.

-- Ken, Florida,

7 comments so far

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 5136 days

#1 posted 09-24-2009 02:05 PM

Wise comments Ken and they hit right at the “heart” of merchandising.
I would also point out that at no time in my purchasing experience has the “customer service” been lower than it is today. Companies must take the time to get their service people up to speed before loosing them on the purchasing public.
I am finding that the product knowledge and communication skills are, in many instances, way below reasonable standards.
This translates into poor answers to technical questions and disappointment after the product is recieved.
Secondly, the catalog information is often very superficial leaving the customer to fill in the blanks regarding the purchase.
That being said, there are some excellent companies emerging today and they deserve our support over the ones with the cheapest prices and virtually no support.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View northwoodsman's profile


581 posts in 4861 days

#2 posted 09-24-2009 02:34 PM

Great topic! I have a comment about WRITING a review. One of the problems I see is that some people write a review of an item before they even use it. I have seen ratings of 4 or 5 stars based on price alone, or how fast something shipped to them, or how easy or quickly something was assembled, or that it looks exactly just like brand X so it must be great. If I spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on an item, I’m really not concerned that I received it in 4 days compared to how it holds up and performs over years of use. I understand that people are excited about getting a new toy and can’t wait to tell their LJ freinds about it, but unless you have used it and put it through it’s test, please blog about it in the Coffee Lounge.

-- NorthWoodsMan

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5214 days

#3 posted 09-24-2009 03:01 PM

You have well articulated some great points on what a valid review should be. I have often thought of this subject and the aspects you have covered.

Excellent entry on reviews. I give 5 stars.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View sry's profile


147 posts in 4723 days

#4 posted 09-24-2009 04:31 PM

Great post! You echoed a lot of my thought processes when I read a review, and also added in some new things to think about that never really crossed my mind before.

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5000 days

#5 posted 09-24-2009 06:19 PM

Great post THANKS! Now let’s hope that many people read it and take it to heart, use the item for some time before posting a review.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4289 days

#6 posted 09-24-2009 06:53 PM

I also think yours was a great post.

I would like to address a pretty minor issue, though:

“It is a headache, and if they can design a box to relieve that headache, they most certainly will because it reduces their replacement costs”

You make a couple of statements with a similar bottom line meaning to this one.

This concept really isn’t quite accurate.

There are two forces in competition, here: cost and customer satisfaction.

If their current packaging leads to a 5% breakage rate, hypothetically, then they’re not likely to change 100% OF their packaging—at significant cost—to eliminate the 5% breakage rate. They may not even want to throw ANY money at that number in an effort to reduce it.

So … while they certainly COULD design packaging (again: this theory applies to MANY elements of business, if you think about it) that would ensure that EVERY product arrives in perfect condition, that would probably not be practical or profitable (increased cost of packaging materials, increased labor to package the product, increased costs of shipping associated with larger/heavier packaging materials, etc.) to do so.

So … the company makes a business decision—call it a calculated risk. As long as the level of breakage they’re willing to accept doesn’t SEEM to threaten the lifetime value of their customer base (willingness to buy from them again), or their cost to acquire a new customer (because they’re developing a reputation for shoddy packaging, and—therefore—a bad customer experience) then change is unlikely.

On the other hand, if customers who receive a damaged product, collectively, make it clear that they are NOT happy about it … then the needle might swing…..

So … what’s ACTIONABLE about what I’m saying? I wouldn’t recommend letting a company off the hook for damaged product … on the assumption that … the company is doing all they can.

They’re not ;-) They’re doing what they think strikes the right balance between cost and customer satisfaction (which translates into profit).

All in all, though, well written post :thumbsup:

-- -- Neil

View RouterManiac's profile


96 posts in 4396 days

#7 posted 09-24-2009 11:13 PM

Thanks guys, I was surprised at how many comments and how soon you have posted, that is encouraging. I think you are all right on the nose and the extra points will make it into a second edition!

-- Ken, Florida,

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