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Angie's Cash Cow...Oh, I Mean Angie's List
I have a friend who recently had a very bad experience with a local auto repair garage, and I kicked around the idea of posting an online review of the business establishment. The online site that came to mind first was Angie's List because I had seen a television commercial for it earlier today. People can provide reviews, positive and negative, for local businesses so that potential customers can be more educated about the business before purchasing their products or contracting their services. On its face, it's a great idea...let consumers tell the tale of whether they think someone should use a business or not, and why they feel that way. So I paid a visit to Angie's List...and discovered that you have to PAY to post a review. Yes, it's a nominal fee ($3.25 per month, cheaper if you buy in bulk), but it's counter-productive and does not accurately represent their advertising and self-promotional statements.
Angie's List is, first and foremost, a "for profit" company. That is evident by the fact that they have a centrally located headquarters that touts an on-site fitness center (competing with Google, perhaps?) and "many of the fun, intangible benefits" they seem to think they possess. They offer a 401(k), health, life, and dental insurance, and - oooh, the best part - free parking! Color me shocked. Actually, I don't know of ANY company that charges it's employees to park on it's property...I mean, really. So why advertise something that should be an inherent "given" and not a promotional "benefit" to lure in potential employees?
On the "Careers" page of Angie's List under the heading "What is Angie's List?" the page states that the company is a "consumer-driven organization that collects customer satisfaction ratings on local service companies in more than 400 categories." Actually, it should read that they are a "for profit organization driven by those consumers who actually think it's apropos to have to pay to voice their opinion on a service or product for a local business establishment" or something similar. And THAT, my friends, is the problem with Angie's List and why it isn't worth the time it takes to type the name into the URL bar of your favorite web browser. As an aside, Angie might want to consider hiring someone with better web design or editing/proofreading skills, or higher quality attention to detail, because in another area of the Angie's List site, the claim is made that it has over 500 categories (instead of the 400 previously mentioned).
Only people who pay to state their opinion or provide information about their experience can actually give a "customer satisfaction rating" about a business. That alone eliminates a very large demographic of the country's population who either don't think they should have to endure another financial burden in an already overburdened economy, or don't think that the "two cents" they would have provided, whether pro or con, is worth more than...well, two cents. It also eliminates everyone who doesn't have a credit card, bank account debit card, or a Pay Pal account with which to pay, which is yet another large portion of the population. It also eliminates people who feel that a "consumer-driven organization" should permit a wholly unbiased method of collecting customer reviews of a business, which would include the fact that the method would be free-of-charge.
Companies themselves don't pay to be on Angie's List. Shouldn't it be the other way around? If a company wants to advertise itself without having its name entered on Angie's List via a consumer review, they should have to pay for that privilege. But nay, it is the consumer, perhaps feeling already defrauded or ripped off by a company, that has to pay for the "privilege" of letting local residents know the scoop on their personal experience. Self-generated marketing/advertising is a form of sponsorship, like the annoying "top result" advertisements you can find when searching for certain things on Google. Those companies pay to be listed, which doesn't mean that there is necessarily anything good at all about the product, service, or information they represent.
Angie's List brags about being the "only review site certified annually" by some auditing firm that very few people have ever heard of, but is allegedly a "respected" establishment. Why should a consumer review site have to be audited? And have you ever seen a business claim they are certified on a periodic basis by a disrespected auditing firm or one of ill repute? Redundant, redundant.
"Reviews are submitted by verified members, not anonymous visitors." Like I said, there's the rub. The big rub. The deal-breaker rub. The rub-a-cat's-fur-the-wrong-way rub. Any self-respecting collector of consumer opinions, including those annoying people at the mall with their clipboards and pencils and diplomas from How to Be a Mall Stalker 101, knows that anonymous reviews are generally far more accurate than ones where a person has to provide their name and contact information. If I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone and I use Good Ol' Billy Bob's Auto Repair, I'd rather not have good ol' Billy Bob know I'm the one who complained about the fact that his dipstick mechanic left the dipstick out of my car when they did the oil change...because Billy Bob might just be my next door neighbor, and he might just be a vindictive little man with a hankering for vigilante justice, and then I might just find I'm in need of a set of tires after Billy Bob reads my complaint about his business.
Another contradiction on Angie's List...one page states that companies do not have to pay to be listed on the site, but on the FAQ page it states that "companies and health care professionals cannot pay" to be included on the site and cannot review themselves. So which is it? Also, the FAQ claims that non-members (people that don't pay) can actually submit a review of a company with certain limitations on the format of their review, and the fact that their review will appear below all the paid-for reviews (sounds like sponsorship again, doesn't it?), but the fact is, you can't. If you've got something to say, you have to pay to say it. And you can't even READ the reviews unless you pay to do so. Apparently, Angie's List doesn't concern itself with truth in their own advertising, so why would someone trust anything in the advertising content of a business listed on the site?
In April 2009, MSN Money provided a review of Angie's List that says, "Need to find a good contractor, a reliable handyman, an honest plumber or a warm-hearted pediatrician? You'll find them and more on this consumer review site..." Oh, but wait...I think they meant to say that you'll find what so-and-so paid to claim is a "good" contractor, or what some-such paid to say is a "reliable" handyman, or what this-and-that paid to review as an "honest" plumber, or what whatchamacallit paid to state is a "warm-hearted" pediatrician. For all ANYONE knows, they could actually be perverts, stalkers, sex offenders, child rapists, peeping Toms, shadetree handymen, armchair contractors, hacks, halfwits, and half-assed workers...but just because ONE person PAID to say something nice because they had ONE good experience, that means the business or service provider should be trustworthy? Well, if it's on Angie's List, it MUST be true!
I am what some people have referred to as a 'spelling nazi.' I hate spelling errors (even though I have been guilty of committing that sin on occasion), and grammatical errors also drive me batty. These faux pas are more disturbing when they are part of a company's advertising because the written word is quite often a person's first impression of a business. If they cannot take the time and effort to ensure that what they write to their potential audience or customers is professional and error-free, why would someone trust them to be as detailed and accurate with anything else the company does? On the "Auto Repair" category's main page there are a few paragraphs of information about auto repair and obtaining that type of service. On this page there are seven spelling/grammatical errors and a few areas where the wording just sounds...funky.
Under the Weddings grouping of categories on the main Category page (of which there are exactly 557 categories), the category "Photography" is listed. Like the "Auto Repair" subject, it also has a few paragraphs of information. In the first paragraph, the inane statement is made that "everyone and their dog is throwing "photography" on the end of their name and trying to make some cash." Really? Really? I don't know ANYONE who has done that and have seen very little evidence of it on the internet. I wonder if the "online consumer review" category makes the same statement about everyone and their dog throwing "list" on the end of their name and trying to make some cash. There are four spelling/grammatical errors on the "Photography" summary page, by the way.
The "Carpet Cleaning" summary is actually filed under the "Carpet" category. Mea culpa, right? Three spelling/grammatical errors on this summary, and some silly "tips" to consider, too. Does the carpet cleaning company make sure there is no drinking on the job? Please...does anyone - ANYONE - know of any company that allows drinking on the job other than bartenders, alcoholic beverage taste testers, and similar professions? Carpet Cleaning College certifications? I know shadetree mechanics that do a better job repairing an automobile than ASE certified mechanics with decades on the job, so a pretty little gilded piece of paper hanging on the wall saying someone sat through a bookwork course on a particular subject doesn't mean they know diddly-squat about actually doing a hands-on job.
"Plumbing" is the last category that actually has a summary, and it, too, has errors. Half the "experience" section discusses price, which is again discussed later in the summary. A couple spelling/grammatical errors can be found on the page, as well, and the page also states that plumbing is not a do-it-yourself task. I've done it myself quite a few times, as have many people I know, without any mishap or subsequent disastrous results.
Out of the 557 categories on the main category page, only a handful have clickable links. Of those, only four have a summary page. If Angie's List is a consumer-driven organization, who made the decision to only provide summaries for four particular service/product categories? Likely not the consumers that pay Angie's salary. And oddly enough, there is no "consumer review service" category, so I guess Angie doesn't want to know what anyone's opinion is of her list.
How is anything at all about Angie's List fair, accurate, reliable, and unbiased, as their website claims it to be?