Tuesday 29 January 2013

"Comparisons are Odious"

A phrase intentionally misquoted by Shakespeare (he substituted 'odorous') and appearing in Marlowe and Donne, but seems to have fallen into disuse of late. Why do we quote it here?

The Web and Comparison

We are all familiar with comparison sites - for insurance, utilities and such - and they can be very useful when comparing absolutes (price being the obvious). But what about subjective issues like 'best hotel' or 'best estate agent'?

Not so helpful, in our opinion. Let us explain why: in over six years of running our own review site (helphound.com) and over two years in managing businesses' online reputations through Dialogue we have been asked again and again 'Why don't you rank businesses against one another?' It's time to publish our answer...

We don't rank businesses because it doesn't work. It doesn't work because...
  • Every person's opinion is personal
  • Every person's opinion is subjective
  • One person's great business is another person's average business
  • One person's terrible business is another person's ideal business
Let's take an example - you want a hotel. You consult a site that ranks hotels. You choose the top-ranked hotel. And then it gets difficult - is the hotel in the right location? Does it provide the facilities you want? Can you absolutely trust the opinions of those whose reviews made that hotel the top ranked hotel in that location? Is the hotel doing something to enhance its ranking (and that doesn't need to be something sinister)?

Another example: a site that ranks estate agents. Top agent in the UK? Pretty well the same issues - location, services, trusted opinions.

Review sites can add tremendous value for consumers, but what (in our opinion) they shouldn't attempt to do is to compare one business against another. If you doubt this, pick a great business in your area and see how it fares against competitors you know - a hotel for instance. It may come out on top, but often it won't, and it's the same for other sectors.

Reviews are hugely useful - consumer feedback about their experience of a particular business can really help consumers choose (or at least make a short-list), but we don't think they should be used to conjure up a ranking system which will almost certainly be misleading (and potentially harmful to business and consumer alike).

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