When a Review is not a Review

Whenever I’m going to buy something, I like to look at the reviews of the product online first to see what people are saying about it. In general, I think word of mouth is pretty valuable because it’s usually someone’s actual opinion based on their experience, as opposed to hype or advertising from the company that made the item.

Traditionally, a product review is something the product’s creator never pays for (other than the cost of the review copy and shipping); in addition, it’s bad form to ask for a good review. The whole point is for the reviewer to give an unbiased opinion. Obviously, if the review copy were to arrive with a check payable to the reviewer, the review would be biased.

We started Cardamom Publishers, our homeschool publishing business, in 2003, and we’ve never paid for a review or asked for a good review. We just send out review copies and wait. We’ve been gratified to receive good reviews, and we want homeschooling parents to know that those reviews are unbiased.

There are many good homeschool websites and magazines that offer unbiased reviews. But apparently there are others who require creators to pay for something they call a product review, but which is actually an advertisement. I recently received an email from one such site, howtohomeschool.net. They’ve offered to review our products. Here are the details:

Removed at the request of the writer 7/11/17

There’s nothing wrong with advertising, but to claim that a paid ad is a product review is dishonest. Homeschooling parents love hearing the opinions of other parents about homeschool products; I valued that input when I homeschooled my four kids. But there’s a huge difference between an unbiased opinion and a paid ad, and I don’t think it’s fair to imply that there isn’t one, especially when your intended audience is made up of very busy homeschooling parents who have enough to do without trying to figure out when they’re being misled.


3 thoughts on “When a Review is not a Review

  1. I too try to gather information from reviews. Amazon reviews seem helpful: both positive and negatives and some specifics.

    When we needed an appliance repaired under warranty, the first repairman didn’t show. The second repairman was being sent from over two hours away. The name of the repair company made me suspicious so I started hunting reviews. Everything I found was awful. I called to cancel the appointment. When they asked why, I told the national company about the reviews of the local repairman. “Oh, people like to complain. People don’t leave reviews when everything goes well. Those comments were just from people who are angry at life.” Hmmm. I do think there’s truth to that statement. But c’mon, when a business has 5-15 reviews PER WEEK complaining about no-shows from the repairman, and a similar number complaining about rudeness or that the appliance is in worse shape AFTER the “repair,” don’t be telling me that these are just angry people who like to complain and say nasty things to ruin business.

    The other thing that troubled me was when a review I left was denied. Same appliance that needed repair under warranty. Not only was a critical piece of equipment left off the appliance, but another piece was made so poorly that it warped in the first few months. When I called for warranty-repairs, I got such poor service that I ended up PAYING for a reputable company to repair it. After contacting the manufacturer, they sent an email asking for a review. I gave a review. They refused to publish it because it was negative. They asked me to change the review so that it would meet their standards. Thinking maybe it was too long or too short, tweaking it in various ways, I kept getting back denial-to-publish on my review. Each denial had a different set of possible reasons that the review was refused. The one common thread was that it was a negative review. Thus I learned that a refrigerator that has a 4.2-star review is only that high because all the 1’s and 2’s were tossed in the garbage.

  2. That’s a shame, Susan. I’m glad you finally found someone to do the repair, but it’s too bad you had to pay for it when the appliance was under warranty. I guess that line about negative people is how they fight back against reviews warning people about their poor customer service. That’s why sites like Yelp (which I use a lot) are so popular, but like Amazon, it’s sometimes hard to tell which reviews are genuine and which are fake.

    Re: homeschool reviews, it bothers me that some people are claiming to offer reviews that aren’t reviews at all, but ads. Since homeschooling became big business, it’s much harder to get actual opinions about curriculum vs. ads and P.R., unless you have time to go to all the forums and dig through social media. We didn’t have those options back in the day, and we were too busy homeschooling anyways. But we had homeschool magazines published by homeschooling parents, not for-profit businesses. Times change, I guess, but I still don’t like dishonesty! :0

  3. Thank you so much! I got an email from that HS site and I was actually considering it but then something bothered me about it all. When I went to the website, there were only 12 reviews. That was it. I’m starting to wonder and then the idea of paying almost $500 for a “review”??? How dumb do I look? As you said, a review that has been PAID for is hardly a review, it’s just an ad. I have nothing against advertising, but that just seems so, so dishonest. And then when I googled some of the email, a sentence about all the benefits, of course, that whole paragraph of information has been used on over 500+ websites.

    Shesh. Sounds real legit to me.

    You just have to be super careful online with your funds and business.

    Thank you for speaking out!

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