The Review Service Vortex of Death
Consumers want to know which products are good without having to buy them first. One way to do that is by reading reviews.
There are third-party services that provide product reviews. Unfortunately, almost all of them are useless because they inevitably fall into the Review Service Vortex of Death.
Review services have a fundamental incentives problem stemming from two facts:
- Businesses don’t want to get bad reviews and they will pay a lot of money to have fake good reviews written, or to have bad reviews removed.
- Consumers can’t tell when a review service is removing bad reviews.
Therefore, any review service, even if consumers pay to use it, is incentivized to accept businesses’ money to remove bad reviews, thus making the service useless for consumers. And it can get away with this behavior for a long time.
The biggest reviewers—including Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Trustpilot—have all fallen into the Review Service Vortex of Death, and should not be trusted by consumers, but they continue to be used because it’s not common knowledge that they delete bad reviews in exchange for money. (And indeed, it’s hard to even prove that they do.)
What can consumers do about this? I don’t know. Businesses like Amazon, that make their money from retail sales, are less likely to fall into the Vortex, but they’re still vulnerable to businesses giving themselves fake reviews.
(I did write a review article one time—a review of donor-advised fund providers—and a couple of providers have subsequently emailed me to ask me to include them in my article. But sadly1, they didn’t offer me any bribes.)
This is a joke. If a company offered me a bribe to include them, then I’d have to exclude them as a matter of principle. ↩