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How reliable are online customer ratings sites?

September 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hiring the right plumber, painter or handyman can be hit or miss. There are several online rating services that offer to help. They're based on customer reviews. Can you rely on these online rating services?

Doctor Judy Weisman wanted to hire a housecleaner, so she registered with Angie's List. Like other rating services, AngiesList.com says its grades are based on reviews from real customers.

"Angie's List rated this business with an 'A,' but I had to go behind them after they had left and dust areas that were supposed to have been cleaned," said Weisman. "I would have to give it no better than a 'B.'"

Consumer Reports Money Adviser Margot Gilman says of course it's not unusual to disagree with user reviews. But be wary of jumping on companies at the top of search results.

"We've found that businesses with 'A' or 'B' ratings who also pay for advertising rise to the top of default search results on Angie's List," said Gilman. "It's a big advantage."

Consumer Reports Money Adviser also checked out other rating services, including Yelp and Google Plus Local.

"Google Plus Local didn't respond when we asked how it verifies that its reviews are from real customers," said Gilman. "Yelp told us that they have a way to identify and delete bogus reviews, but admitted that the system has not been objectively tested."

Yelp also allows businesses to buy their way to the top of the pack in search results. But unlike Angie's List, Yelp clearly labels the advertisement.

"I think there's really no substitute for using family and friends for references for this type of service," said Weisman.

"Bottom line: Ratings services aren't perfect, and we saw ratings for the same business can vary significantly from site to site," said Weisman. "But if you can't get a recommendation from someone you know, it may be worth it to look up a business on several sites."

Keep in mind that Angie's List charges subscribers to sign up. Yelp and Google Plus Local are free.

Another free service that's worth checking in the Los Angeles area is the Better Business Bureau.

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