You’d think this would be affirmation enough for the website. I’m with the emotionally reticent husband who, responding when his wife suggests that he should try getting a little bit mushy every now and again, says, “Thirty years ago, I said ‘I love you.’ If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” Exactly my sentiments about the Sporti. Perhaps you can guess my reaction to SwimOutlet’s alternate proposition to customers: posing for a photo in their purchase and submitting the snapshot.
But my bathing-suit supplier is hardly the only company seeking public declarations of affection or guidance about how to improve. Every time I make a purchase online or in person, I’m importuned to rate the product. Every time I call my cable or cellphone service provider or bank, I’m asked to evaluate the experience — though, as I’m assured, “your telephone banker will not be aware of your participation.” Good to know.
Such requests are understandable. According to research by Edward Malthouse, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, and Yorgos Askalidis, a data scientist, the likelihood that review-conscious consumers will buy a particular product can nearly triple based on the number of reviews the product has collected.
I opt out, and not at all because I have a problem with giving praise where it’s due. I simply don’t want to be part of the feedback industrial complex. For as long as I can remember, I’ve made a point of writing letters to companies or calling customer service when I buy an uncommonly good item or receive above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty help from an employee. I receive grateful — sometimes astonished — responses. They cement my connection to a company and all but guarantee unswerving loyalty from this particular consumer.
Lately, though I’ve seen a different script. This summer, I had an issue with the company that supplies our propane. When I called to complain, the first-rate employee apologized, explained how the mistake occurred and gave me a significant and retroactive break on the per-gallon price. When I emailed her supervisor to commend the service she’d provided, I got cursory thanks along with a request to write up my commendation and post it on the company’s website. Suddenly, what had been personal became transactional. I wanted to tell them. They wanted me to tell the world.
One could argue, I suppose, that if I rely on online reviews to guide my decision-making, I should be willing to contribute a few of my own. The thing is, I often find the reviews baffling.
When, for example, I was trying to make a decision about a kitchen scale, the words and the allotment of stars didn’t jibe. “Great scale for the price, durable, easy to read, easy to clean, a real find” was the opinion of one reviewer who nonetheless awarded only three stars out of five. Rather than scroll down, I started pondering the character of the critic: “Withholding,” I decided. “Nothing is ever good enough for her. Is that how she is with her children?”
Another critic seemed to take way too much responsibility for what she saw as the kitchen scale’s failures. Another round of armchair psychologizing ensued, before I decided to see if new batteries might reinvigorate my old scale. Done.
I’m not always quite so pure as I like to think. Galvanized by the chance to win a $1,500 gift card, I responded to an email come-on to post a review of my new Kate Spade wallet. Truth is, I was pleasantly surprised by the wallet. The leather, the design, the space allocated for credit cards — all good. I said so at some length and, I thought, kind of charmingly, describing my acquisition as “a wallet that fills the bill(fold).” Did I win the gift card? I did not. Did the Kate Spade folks post my review? They did not.
I took it as a sign to keep my opinions to myself.