About eight years ago I had to attend a conference in Sydney and after booking a fare looked online for accommodation. I searched by location and made my choice on price. So long as I was close enough to the venue and the price was right, then I was happy, or so I thought at the time.

The hotel I booked was clean enough but the room itself was like something Dale Kerrigan in The Castle would have put together – two sets of bunk beds with not much room between them. The bathroom door swung out, not in and there was no shower curtain. All of that I could I could live with for the three nights I was there – so long as I could sleep – and that’s when the real problems started.

At night the hotel turned into a Mardi Gras of sorts where guests congregated in the hallway talking loudly, singing and eating food. Room doors were open and people were scurrying from room to room carrying steaming bowls and bubbling pots. I slept very little.

“When I got back home I decided to Google the name of the hotel and include the word “reviews” in the search. Bingo – screeds of online reviews saying exactly what I had experienced . . . “

After the first night I asked the duty manager, who didn’t really care about anything and certainly not whatever happened in the hotel, if he could politely ask the guests on my floor to be a little more considerate. “Why?” he asked while keeping his gaze focused on the magazine he was reading. I told him all of the issues I had with some guests’ behaviour that made it incredibly difficult to sleep. “Yeah, they’re refugees mate – the hotel has a deal with the Aussie government to put them up here before they are processed – you’ll have to put up with it – we do.”

“But since that day seeking out and reading online feedback has guided each consumer choice I have made.”

Three nights – same carnival – no sleep. Don’t get me wrong – these were happy, wonderful people and in other circumstances I would have asked to join the party. When I got back home I decided to Google the name of the hotel and include the word “reviews” in the search. Bingo – screeds of online reviews saying exactly what I had experienced – bunk rooms from Bonie Doon, staff who didn’t give a flying proverbial and no sleep due to the hotel’s unique relationship with the Australian government. Nearly every piece of feedback mirrored my experience and the most sobering thing was the reviews stretched back years. Why didn’t I read reviews when I was looking for hotels? The answer to that question was surprisingly simple – I had never even considered reviews as a part of making decisions about purchases. But since that day seeking out and reading online feedback has guided each consumer choice I have made.

” Word of mouth is one of the strongest motivators for consumer choice and that’s all that online reviews are – online word of mouth.”

Every Trade Me purchase or sale has been governed by talking a few minutes to read the trader’s feedback – and not only the recent ones. Every app I have downloaded, or not, has been carefully scrutinised by reading consumer reviews – not what the producers of the app say about it. Every restaurant has been chosen not by their menu but by their online reviews. My best dining experience in many years was due to the choice I made, not solely on the many great reviews but the amazing response the owners made to the one bad one – they apologised profusely, made no excuses, invited the reviewer to return and would front the bill themselves and said their feedback had created a change in how they conducted their business.

Word of mouth is one of the strongest motivators for consumer choice and that’s all that online reviews are – online word of mouth. The most recent research says that 84% of people trust online reviews more than a recommendation from a family member of friend and that’s fairly stunning statistic that affirms how much faith consumers have in the feedback of people they will never meet. It suggests that old school word of mouth isn’t anywhere near as valuable as the online version.

Since my Bonnie Doon experience in Australia I haven’t once been let down by a decision I have made based on reviews and the short time I take to research them online pays dividends in the long run. That doesn’t mean reviews are infallible and I do try to distinguish between believable, authentic ones and those that are obviously fake or manipulated. All in all I don’t consider spending money on anything without consulting the experiences and opinions of other consumers.