Getting Real About Customer Reviews

Customer reviews of sellers’ service is a cornerstone of content for most clearinghouse-style e-commerce sites.

Just a few minutes ago, my husband was shopping online for a new motherboard at, a popular electronics information clearinghouse. He pointed out something to me on that site that makes their customer reviews look a bit silly.

Some of the companies that sell products through this site do a lot of business – which means they get thousands and thousands of customer reviews. For example, see this catalog page listing sellers for a particular motherboard, the Tyan 760 MPX. The first seller listed, Gateway, has received more than 75,000 customer reviews.

That sure sounds impressive. However, one little word on that page manages to undermine, even slightly, the value of that impressive number. has designated as the link text for that seller, “Read 75,000+ reviews.” To which my husband chuckled and responded, “Oh yeah, like I’m going to read 75,000+ reviews. Right.”

Admittedly this is a minor point, but I think it’s an important one, given how most major e-commerce sites analyze and test every single word used on their site.

Normally I’m in favor of using active verbs as a way to liven up content and also to help keep readers engaged and moving through the content. But in this case, when the volume of review content is so large as to be completely unwieldy, using an active verb like “read” sounds, well, silly. In this case, I suspect it probably would be more effective and credible to specify the link text here as simply, “75,000+ reviews.”

…On the bright side, the site’s smiley-face graphics are an effective way to convey at a glance overall customer satisfaction for each seller – mainly because some obvious contrast. Yes, most of the smileys are green and happy — but a few are the yellow of the underwhelmed, and a few are the red of the profoundly dissatisfied.

The value of using graphics to communicate ratings, especially in a long list, becomes apparent when you scroll down this page to the listing for E-Tech Warehouse. There, the smiley-face in every category is sad and red. It really stands out.

My husband noticed this and pointed out, “See, that kind of contrast makes me want to actually read the 1000+ reviews for that seller, to see why everyone hates them!” Indeed, those reviews are rather entertaining.