Unlearning My Quest For The Best

May 12, 2016

Online reviews are becoming a crucial part of the customer experience, but are they causing us to miss out on the best of what a brand might have to offer?

Since moving to New York City a little under a year ago, I have to admit: I have become addicted to reviews.

To be clear, when I use the term reviews, I’m referring to the 5-out-of-5 stars, “leave-your-review-and-help-others-learn-about-great-local-businesses” reviews.

While many can attest to all the good that can be gleaned from these reviews, I’ve also started to notice some of the cons that come with being too reliant on them.

A few months ago, I shared an Amazon link with my friend for some yoga mat flip-flops I first spotted during a trip to Hawaii. Upon opening the link, my friend’s response was, "Wow, those have really good reviews."

It was then that I realized it didn't matter what the sandals looked like, what they cost, or whether or not I should even be buying the flip-flops in the first place. Because the flip-flops had such a good rating online, my friend and I had both almost reflexively decided they were worth purchasing.

Another similar instance occurred when my friends and I decided we were craving Thai food one evening. After opening my Seamless app, we quickly sorted all of the nearby Thai restaurants by Ranking, and then placed our order at the top-ranked restaurant without a second thought.

You might be thinking, “Of course! Who wouldn't order their Pad See Ew from the best-ranked restaurant within a 5 square mile radius?” But the way I see it, for as much time and hassle as these rankings and reviews are saving us, they've also started to preclude us from making our own choices.

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I felt comfortable making online purchases and going to restaurants without second-guessing my decisions. Fast-forward to 2016 and I find myself constantly questioning my choices—even sorting through Sephora products by “Top Rated” rather than trusting myself to know my own skincare needs.

Relying solely on ratings and rankings may also lead to the assumption that there is a perfect option out there. Barry Schwartz, author of the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, refers to people who think this way as “Maximizers.” According to Schwartz, Maximizers tend to suffer from decision fatigue, and feeling like there is always something better out there. This mindset plagues present-day society, and New Yorkers in particular, when anything you could ever want is just a few swipes on a smart phone away.

But according to Schwartz, those who learn to settle for "good enough” (and whom he refers to as “Satisficers”) tend to feel happier about their life choices, and are not held back by their ultimate quest for the best.

Brand reviews are becoming an unavoidable fact of life. Gone are the days when businesses could continue to flourish in spite of negative customer experiences. Thanks to social media and crowd-sourced review sites like Yelp, a single customer experience can quickly devolve into a viral issue over night, and the stakes are too high for brands to disregard the possible impact.

But as a customer, relying solely on these ratings to avoid the possible chance of disappointment, I believe we’re missing out on a great deal of new experiences and opportunities—perhaps our next favorite brand or product—that shouldn’t be overlooked just because of another’s negative experience.

As for me, I don’t expect myself to stop consulting these reviews and ratings altogether. But just being aware of how limited my options become by relying on these rankings alone has already inspired me to challenge the belief that only the best is good enough.

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