Cristopher Carfi and Jeff Jarvis both posted their respective commentary to a story published by David Segal in the New York Times recently about a bully finding his pulpit on the Web.
It could, as Segal suggests in the New York Times article, become better at incorporating consumer reviews on the main page of its search results, or you could manually search Google Shopper to verify what others have said about the eCommerce site you're looking to buy from.
However, you should take reviews with a grain of salt.
Evaluating complaints in reviews
You could rely on customer reviews, with a caveat -- because people often prefer to complain, online and offline, you will need to filter and search for more than a few reviews.
Some people are so bent on not being confrontational with a service provider, for example, that they may take a passive aggressive behavioral route, and lash online when they never gave the hotel, restaurant, or merchant, timely feedback and an opportunity to make things right by them.
There is also the subjective nature of experiences to take into account. Take my recent experience at a restaurant in New England. Part of my meal was good, one dish was terrible. So much so that I was sick all night from indigestion. Other diners in the group loved the experience and would go back.
I didn't call back the next day to inform them about the dish, which would perhaps give them a way to double check the ingredients for freshness and sourcing, if they so choose. I chalked it up as bad luck in my book... yet I would personally not go back to that place. Given that I didn't act, I also feel I should not post a review about the restaurant.
Most people don't give thought to how to complain effectively, which in turn generates some noise when it comes to online reviews.
Do you know someone who knows someone?
At some point in the article, Segal reports that one customer complaint to the authorities led to an actual arrest of the villain in the story. He wrote: “She must have known somebody who knew somebody,” he says, meaning that this is the sort of trouble you encounter only when you cross well-connected people.
It seems to me that the more networked you are, the better off in cases like this one, and many others. There are people whose opinion cannot be bought, for example, and if you get to know and trust them, even when you don't agree with them, you can filter their comments based upon past interactions.
The answer might be to rely once again on individuals vs. institutions -- the NYT article details how both other companies the eCommerce seller did business with, and the bank that issued the credit card to the buyer, took a passive approach to the issue.
Will most people do their homework when it comes to vetting if a vendor or merchant is the real deal? I don't think so, which is why the villains of the net have it easy today. Some commenters in the Jarvis post seemd to think more regulation would help. I'd rather rely on my community, thank you very much.
To me the answers is built in transparency and network filters. It's all a work in progress, then again, so is life. I'm reminded of Ben Franklin's maxim once again. Wise words we should keep in mind.
How do you protect yourself from this kind of customer scam? Segal writes if you’re the type of person who reads consumer reviews, Mr. Borker would rather you shop elsewhere. And so you should.
[magnet on Cafe' Press]