Op-ed: Online reviews do more harm than good to many businesses

oped online reviews

“This is going on your permanent record!” 

This was something that most of us probably heard growing up. Well, the person behind online reviews heard it too and thought, “Hey, this is not a bad idea.” 

I’m talking about the effect online reviews have on businesses. When the reviews started, the intent must have been to act as an online representation of a business’s reputation. It was an easy way to access what people thought of a business and decide whether or not to use their services. However, as time passed, the review system has not evolved and many operators question if it is more harmful to businesses than helpful. 

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

Here are a few of the biggest issues many operators have and potential ways to solve them. 

The largest complaint most businesses have with reviews is that they never expire. For sure, it makes sense to keep the reviews and comments online forever, so that people can go back and see how the business interacts with its guests. However, the actual star rating (the part that is most used by people to decide if they should visit a business or not) should likely be based on a shorter and more recent timeframe for the business. Perhaps a six-month or one-year running total would be a better barometer of how good a company is. 

For example, say a business opened but made a few mistakes in its first few months before getting a rhythm. If it “earned” a few one-star reviews in those first few months, it would need to quadruple its reviews with nothing but five-star reviews to pull back up to an overall rating of four (which for many people is the rating needed to even be considered). So this business will forever be punished because it was not perfect from day one. 

The same applies to a business that may hit a rough patch or a change of ownership or even suffer some growing pains over the years. Allowing reviews to expire would allow well-run businesses to give their guests a better idea of how well they serve their guests today and would help consumers find companies that are currently offering high-quality products and services. 

Over the years, reviews have also become weaponized. Ask any frontline worker and they will share with you at least one story of someone threatening to leave a poor review unless the business offers them some sort of discount or, in some cases, free services. In other cases, someone can set up multiple accounts to leave poor reviews and, because many accounts are anonymous, owners can never really address them. On top of this issue is the fact that the reviews are very lightly monitored and are unlikely to ever be removed. 

So, if a guest is acting in bad faith and threatens to leave a bad review, a business has limited options on how it can deal with the issue, unless it is okay with a poor online presence. Expiring reviews would again help with this situation, but so would allowing a business to address or point out certain reviews that may be left in bad faith. Maybe that means that a certain amount of reviews can be deleted by the owner each year or maybe there can be a better way to police individual reviews. 

Finally, I believe the last issue that needs to be addressed with online reviews is that the ratings are fairly easy to pull down, but very hard to raise up. Every time a quick one-star review is left by someone, it takes four five-star reviews to get back up to an overall rating of four. If you wanted to get back up to 4.99 (five is now next to impossible), it would take 400 five-star reviews in a row. 

I would also like to point out that, in most cases, people are more likely to leave a review if something does not go right. A company may have hundreds of positive interactions with its clients, but most of them will not go online and review it. However, if someone has a poor experience they feel like they want to be heard and are more likely to post negatively, sometimes without even first contacting the business operator. 

I think the best way to address this would be to keep the overall rating at five stars but introduce a  “sixth star” when people are grading a business. This would help excellent businesses actually achieve a higher rating and not be dragged down by just a few poor reviews. 

Do I think online reviews should be eliminated? No, I myself have used them. However, I do think there is room for improvement and that, in their current state, these reviews may actually be harming many small to medium-size businesses. So, as of now, I’m afraid I have to give online reviews a rating of one star. Hope those responsible read this and take some time to improve things. 

Anish Mehra is owner of the East India Company.

Get our email newsletters

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.