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Buyer beware: Online reviews aren't perfect

Posted November 12, 2013

Hiring the right plumber, painter or handyman can be hit or miss.

If a trusted friend doesn't have a recommendation, the Internet is probably your next stop.

But how reliable are those online reviews?

To find out, Consumer Reports took a look at some of the more popular free customer rating services, such as Angie's List.

"We've found that businesses with A or B ratings that also pay for advertising rise to the top of default search results on Angie's List," said Consumer Reports money adviser Margot Gilman. "It's a big advantage."

Consumer Reports also checked out other sites, such as Yelp and Google Plus Local.

"Google Plus Local didn't respond when we asked how it verifies that its reviews are from real customers," Gilman said. "Yelp told us that they have a way to identify and delete bogus reviews but admitted that the system has not been objectively tested."

Consumer Reports found 66 percent of Yelp's reviews in the first part of the year were four- or five-star ratings.

Yelp allows businesses to buy their way to the top of the pack in search results. But unlike Angie's List, Yelp clearly labels the ad.

"Bottom line: Ratings services aren't perfect, and we saw ratings for the same business can vary significantly from site to site," Gilman said. "But if you can't get a recommendation from someone you know, it may be worth it to look up a business on several sites."

Another free service worth checking out is the Better Business Bureau, which deals with complaints against companies and rates them on how well they resolve the problems.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • dollibug Nov 19, 2013

    Money TALKS* and when you pay you can BELIEVE whatever you care to. NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS, NOTHING*

  • hppyhourhero Nov 15, 2013

    Angie's List is not free, you have to pay a fee in order to enter the site.

  • superman Nov 15, 2013

    Dale--better to check them out before you hire them than afterwards. If you found out things after the work you could have done the same thing before you hired them. Doesnt do any good to lock the barn door after the horse is gone.

  • snowl Nov 13, 2013

    It's obvious to me that some companies hire folks to make favorable comments on line about their products or company. When you see ALL 5 STARS for only one review and then about 15 others that are unfavorable, it's sends a red flag that the "perfect score" is a fake review.

  • 68_dodge_polara Nov 13, 2013

    Angie's List now makes 70% of its revenue from business advertising.

  • 68_dodge_polara Nov 13, 2013

    Better Business Bureau.

  • Dale Nov 13, 2013

    Companies lie and will tell you anything to draw you in. I hired a company to do some work based off the reviews and was not satisfied at all. After speaking with a couple of other people, this company has a history of poor work and dissatisfaction among its customers BUT has great ratings on this site. Go figure

  • albegadeep Nov 13, 2013

    "more popular free customer rating services, such as Angie's List." Uh, Angie's List isn't free. Also, straight off the Angie's List website: "Companies can't pay to be on Angie's List".