Friday, August 10, 2007

Is walmart.com editing its consumer reviews?

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DISCLAIMER: The following essay states my personal opinions on walmart.com's recently added policy of allowing product reviews. Before we begin, I would like to CLEARLY state that Wal-Mart & walmart.com are allowed, by their terms of service, to edit any and all content submitted to their Web site. It is their Web site. They can do whatever they want to with it. I am not accusing Wal-Mart or walmart.com of breaking any laws or committing a felony, doing anything illegal, dishonest, false, fallacious or erroneous. The ONLY thing I am accusing them of is not operating in an open and transparent fashion. If they came out and said "Yes, we edit the reviews," then there is not an issue here.
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It is my personal opinion that Wal-Mart’s plan to allow customer feedback on items sold on walmart.com will never work in an honest, democratic, checks-and-balances fashion. Here’s why I believe this to be true.

I personally believe that the company is highly editing the reviews before they allow them to go onto the Web site. I repeat. IT IS MY PERSONAL OPINION THAT THE REVIEWS ARE BEING EDITED.

Read this thread of reviews about a $538 Emerson LCD HDTV.
Read this thread of reviews about a $498 set of patio furniture.
Read this thread of reviews about a $268 set of patio furniture.

There are few spelling errors, zero bad punctuation and precious few mistakes period in there. Oddly enough, they kept some of the atrocious grammar. That’s probably just the Arkansas educational system - or the result of trying to edit without seeming to edit. Plus, there are marketing buzzwords, survey jargon and positive Wal-Mart messages sprinkled through those reviews like croutons on a rancid deli salad.

To wit: “adequate amount of inputs” or “meets or exceeds my expectations” or "very unique and contemporary in design" or "recommend to all who want a nice tv for a decent price” or "elegant look for an excellent price" or “the local Walmart store politely and promptly accepted my WalMart.com return for refund.” They even turn the negative reviews into positives about Customer Service!

This just serves as further proof that as a company, Wal-Mart cannot and will not allow honest discourse on its products. Examine the waiting period between the time comments are submitted and the time they appear on the Web site – 3-5 DAYS? Sorry. I can't find a link directly to the guidelines.

Honestly, I initially believed that too many Wal-Mart haters were going to view the product reviews as an opportunity to cry foul on the company, its practice of outsourcing and the cheaply made goods that resulted from Wal-Mart's drive for profits.

Obviously they have figured a way around that. And the positive to negative ratio of product reviews must be running around 5-1.

I think you also have to look at the target consumer of walmart.com as opposed to the rest of the Internet. Despite what you may think, it is not the same.

In my opinion, the walmart.com user is not as sophisticated as the average user for amazon.com, bn.com, circuitcity.com or any other online retailer. Obviously they were going to have to employ people to re-write what they wrote. And then couldn’t resist “improving” the reviews.

This sentence is posted in the Terms of Use "Walmart.com does not regularly review posted Comments, but does reserve the right (but not the obligation) to monitor and edit or remove any Comments submitted to the Site." I'm not arguing they don't have the right - it is their Web site - I'm just saying they need to be a bit more honest about it.

Walmart.com looks at the Web site simply as an extension of the brand – aimed at the same customer. Stupid in the store translates to stupid on the Web site. Wal-Mart cannot allow this tarnishing of its brand to happen, ergo, word magic!

The point I think some people may miss when dealing with walmart.com is that IT IS STILL WAL-MART STUFF. People keep buying it in the stores – obviously they will keep buying it online. It is still cheap foreign-made crap even though it comes from a shiny computer instead of a dirty store filled with people who won't help you.

I would say that the majority of the people going to walmart.com are just looking for cheap stuff. They are going to buy cheap – no matter what the product review says – because they trust Wal-Mart to deliver low prices.

PS: Watch out for reviews by Wal-Mart associates. As discovered on these gas grill reviews.

19 comments:

Library Rat said...

5-1 positive v negative?

That's highly unlikely. When I worked in retail and we had workshops on customer service, there was one thing that was drilled into our heads more than any other. A customer who receives bad service or a bad product is 11 times more likely to say something to another person than a customer who has had a good experience.

So, where are the other 54 negative reviews?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the person that is savvy enough to buy something online and actually take the time to write a review about it is not the typical Wal-mart customer. Hence the better spelling and grammar. Besides you always point out how Wal-mart will not do anything that doesn't positively affect their bottomline and I don't see how the ROI could be very attractive. Nor would the fallout be worth it if it came to light that it was true.

Jordan said...

@ library rat
The article says he belives walmart.com is deleting all comments that aren't positive. Thats where the other 54 go...into the trash.

My question: Which review on the gas grill's web page makes you believe employees are posting?

luckycanucky said...

"Awesome Grill" by thegrillmeister has a box above the name "Wal-Mart Associate"

Clark said...

Just like working at a fast food restaurant.
Bad comment cards get thrown away by the employees before the management sees them.

FARfetched said...

I dunno… WM is actually coming out & saying they can "edit" the reviews. They pretty much do whatever they can get away with, so if they reserve the right to edit content you can be pretty sure they're doing it.

You get what you pay for, especially at Wal-Mart. There's a certain about of editing/deleting that's absolutely necessary — everyone has to fumigate their forums to keep spammers & trolls from taking over, and I would expect lots of trolls on any Wal-Mart site that allowed public input. So I'm in no way surprised that Wal-Mart would take it one step further and "massage" content as well. They probably fund it through an "image management" line item in the marketing budget.

Just my SWAGs and opinions, of course.

mermaidshoes said...

i also find some of the user names to be really strange... usually people pick ridiculously random and nonsensical usernames, often involving numbers. some of these just seem weird and fake, though... "icannotshopenough"? "TVWatcher"? "TVaholic"? "satisfiedshopperinmd"? i don't know... i mean, maybe people are just huge tools like that, but it sounds to me like some walmart staffer got paid to some up with those reviews. many of the reviews also seem really targeted to concerns that people might have about buying online, often mentioning being nervous about buying online (but everything turned out okay!), the ease of putting things together, and the "great" (???!) customer service. it's sorta like a walmart exec asked one of his employees, "hey, can you write some reviews to make people feel better about buying online?" yeah...

Dawne said...

Every product I have bought at Wal-Mart(appliances, etc) has taken a crap in a few short months. I replaced a few at Target, and they're still running.

Wry Exchange said...

Wow. This is a different type of post for you. Lots of CYA. I hope the Walmart trolls haven't threatened you.

Architect Critic said...

Ok, I admit, I went to Walmart yesterday. The thing is, I needed a wide variety of items, and I knew they had them all at good prices - it was late and I didn't feel like driving all over town. Most of the stuff I bought was from national name brands. The things that weren't, I didn't care. *sigh* I know, I'm helping keep the beast alive, but sometimes they do fulfill a need.

P.S. Keep an eye on the reviews for that barbeque to which you linked. My partner in crime is trying a little experiment.

Amanda said...

Hmm, seems like different people like using "Bang for the Buck" as review titles too. Gee, not suspicious at all, Wal-Mart! Thanks for bringing this to light, BBCAmerican.

Emmy said...

I actually worked at walmart.com for a few months. I can neither confirm nor deny that they edit the reviews, mainly because I was just a call-center drone, and didn't do any of the real web work. But this sounds like the kind of thing they would do.

One thing that makes me think they're faked is the mention of a local store quickly and courteously accepting a return from the site. In my experience, many of the stores don't know how to do that, or that they CAN do that. About half the calls I took were from associates in local stores asking me if they could take back .com merchandise, and how to do it.

Wayne Wurst said...

Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it! product reviews

2WOOFS said...

I recently wrote a review on an e-delivery product. The product was good, but the delivery system was terrible and I actually had to make a trip to the store in the end.

WM refunded my original payment (after 10 days) so in effect, I made an interest free loan to Walmart.

I wrote a factual non-emotional review, and it was never published.

Anonymous said...

Walmart absolutely omits negative product reviews! I wrote a recent review for a Haier 2.7 cubic ft. refrigerator. I spoke about the poor design of the unit along with comments about the scratches on the refrigerator when it arrived. I rated the refrigerator one star. While Walmart acknowledges I submitted a review, my review does not appear on their website for the product. There are 8 reviews that share my observations but they are far less detailed than my review.

richfiles said...

I just looked at the Walmart.com reviews for the video game "No Man's Sky"... cause... well, I wanted a good chuckle! Color me SHOCKED to discover only 4 reviews exist, two at 5 stars and two at 4 stars! WHAT! Not one negative review, not even one mediocre review for the game that flopped so hard on delivery, that people actually succeeded in getting refunds DESPITE standard no-refund policies on digital sales from Sony, and extended period refunds offered on Steam! The negative opinion of this game is unprecedented!

That's all the proof I need to be convinced Walmart tweaks and censors these reviews! O_o

Anonymous said...

Just purchased Google Wifi, was not happy with the product or the "sold by" company. Received an email asking me to review. Attempted to review and couldn't submit because it kept saying "inflammatory language" - seriously had to review to see what they might have been offended by.

Tried to generic and make my language more "acceptable" - not easy to do when you don't know what the offending language was. It finally submitted.

Just received another email a month later asking me to review the same product! Filled it out again making sure to state clearly what issues I had without any inflammatory language. Says duplicate entry! They asked me again for goofs sake.

Looking at the other reviews, there are five glowing five star reviews - nothing else. My three star review is nowhere to be found...

Seems pretty sanitized to me.

Anonymous said...

Every review on cheap back stand alone up camera was a easy to tell "lies".

paraphrasing :Great gift for mom and dad, grandma everybody greatly appreciated, really?

What on earth is grandma going to do with a ntsc color license plate camera with no monitor.
Maybe they are going to tie it into the big screen AV tv on their dash LOL>

Anonymous said...

I believe it because I've seen it with my own reviews, and they don't allow us to edit our own reviews. That sucks.