'Poor wannabe tower': Study reveals we're obsessed with online reviews – despite many being absurd

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‘Misnamed, should be called Tat Modern’ – one star; ‘Poor wannabe tower – one star’; ‘Boredom was more present than talented artists’ – one star.

These comments and ratings appeared in online reviews for the Tate Modern in London, the Tower of London and London’s National Gallery, picked out by a study highlighting the ‘absurdity of taking an anonymous person’s opinion as gospel’ before visiting an attraction or going on holiday.

The research showed that despite many reviews being ‘heavily biased or fake’, 40 per cent of Britons and 67 per cent of Americans would describe themselves as ‘obsessed’ with reading reviews.

As part of a study, one-star reviews were projected on to landmarks in London and New York to highlight the 'absurdity of taking an anonymous person's opinion as gospel' before going on a trip or visiting a landmark

As part of a study, one-star reviews were projected on to landmarks in London and New York to highlight the ‘absurdity of taking an anonymous person’s opinion as gospel’ before going on a trip or visiting a landmark

These findings came from a survey of 4,000 travellers – including 2,000 British and 2,000 U.S holidaymakers – that formed part of the study, commissioned by homestay company Plum Guide.

To drive home the point that online reviews should sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt it beamed the aforementioned one-star reviews on to the landmarks they referred to.

It also projected ‘highly subjective’ one-star reviews on to some of New York’s most esteemed landmarks. One targeted the city’s High Line, reading: ‘Highline, low point.’ The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum similarly took a hit, with one review complaining that there were ‘no fun rides’, while another review beamed onto its facade read: ‘This is by far the WORST museum I’ve been to and I’ve been to a lot.’ 

A fourth review was lit up on Brooklyn Bridge – ‘Underwhelming, it’s just a bridge.’ 

Research showed that despite many reviews being ‘heavily biased or fake’, 40 per cent of Britons and 67 per cent of Americans would describe themselves as ‘obsessed’ with reading reviews. Here a scathing review of the Tower of London is beamed on to the historic site

Research showed that despite many reviews being ‘heavily biased or fake’, 40 per cent of Britons and 67 per cent of Americans would describe themselves as ‘obsessed’ with reading reviews. Here a scathing review of the Tower of London is beamed on to the historic site

Other findings, meanwhile, from the survey of British travellers found that seven in 10 people had previously experienced ‘emotional upset or stress on holiday through misplaced trust’ in customer reviews.

However, 77 per cent said that these reviews are ‘important or essential’ when researching or booking a holiday, and one in three people admitted they refuse to book a holiday without reading online reviews.

What’s more, the study found that one in three Britons would feel ‘emotionally distressed’ if they were to book a major holiday without reading any reviews first, and 24 per cent felt that they would ‘suffer from sleepless nights’ if they couldn’t access any reviews.

A one-star review of London's National Gallery. Three out of five British holidaymakers said that they trust customer reviews

A one-star review of London’s National Gallery. Three out of five British holidaymakers said that they trust customer reviews

According to the research, 64 per cent of Britons believe that customer reviews are generally accurate when booking a holiday, despite 21 per cent being let down by a holiday because of a ‘misleading customer review’.

Three out of five British holidaymakers said that they trust customer reviews, but three in four agree there ‘needs to be a more trustworthy and accurate system than just customer reviews when booking a holiday’.

Britons tend to read an average of 14 reviews before they feel comfortable enough to take the plunge and book a trip, the study revealed, with 12 per cent reading up to 30 reviews. And, half of Britons find the research that’s required to book a holiday ‘overwhelming and stressful’.

Philip Fernbach, a leading cognitive scientist and the co-author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, said ‘reliance on reviews needs urgently reconsidering’

Philip Fernbach, a leading cognitive scientist and the co-author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, said ‘reliance on reviews needs urgently reconsidering’

The U.S poll also revealed that almost half of Americans would feel ‘emotionally distressed’ if they were to splash out on a big trip without reading any reviews first, and 34 per cent would find it hard to sleep if they couldn’t access reviews.

The study also consulted Philip Fernbach, a leading cognitive scientist and the co-author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, who said that ‘reliance on reviews needs urgently reconsidering’ – especially as Britons are planning to spend £2,844 on holidays in 2022, £800 more than in 2021.

Philip said: ‘The consumer information environment has undergone a seismic shift in the past ten years, and online reviews are now the predominant source of information that consumers rely on. Unfortunately, the average star rating is heavily biased, fake reviews are common and for experiences like holidays, different consumers can have radically different tastes. 

Negative reviews were also projected onto The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, pictured, with one review complaining: 'This is by far the WORST museum I've been to and I've been to a lot'

Negative reviews were also projected onto The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, pictured, with one review complaining: ‘This is by far the WORST museum I’ve been to and I’ve been to a lot’

A second one-star review on New York's Guggenheim. The study found that almost half of U.S travellers would feel ‘emotionally distressed’ if they were to book a major holiday without reading any reviews first

A second one-star review on New York’s Guggenheim. The study found that almost half of U.S travellers would feel ‘emotionally distressed’ if they were to book a major holiday without reading any reviews first

Another review, directed at the Brooklyn Bridge, reads: 'Underwhelming, it's just a bridge'

Another review, directed at the Brooklyn Bridge, reads: ‘Underwhelming, it’s just a bridge’

‘The research by Plum Guide shows that people trust reviews tremendously, even admitting to being obsessed with them despite sometimes experiencing substantial negative repercussions of this trust. It would be better for consumers if they could supplement their reliance on reviews with more expert or critical evaluations that are not plagued by the myriad limitations of the online review system.’

Plum Guide Founder and CEO Doron Meyassed added: ‘For restaurants we have the Michelin Star, yet for booking travel, we only have the opinions of anonymous strangers. Booking through a platform such as Plum Guide in which every property is subjected to a vetting process by real, trained critics offers peace of mind and truly special experiences. 

‘To highlight the absurdity of relying solely on online reviews to find the exceptional, we thought it would be interesting to project some on to a few of the most critically acclaimed and iconic locations in London and New York to start a conversation which challenges our obsession with reviews.’ 

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