Q: There’s a set of Three’s Company commemorative plaques I’m dying to buy but there are no reviews yet. They feature Terri vs. Chrissy, so this might be a bad investment. How important are online reviews in helping me make purchasing decisions?

A: First, let me just say, this is a very specific inquiry.

Second, let me say that it does mention something that this PropellerHead thinks has changed online and brick-and-mortar commerce much in the same way point-of-sale, self-checkout, and free shipping have been game changers.

I realize online reviews for products is not a new practice, but let’s step back for a moment and really think about how this has changed our shopping habits. Can you remember the last time (or a single time) you purchased an item from Amazon without reading the reviews?

On deeper inspection, riddle me this…

When you searched for “Cat Calendar” and over 2000 results came back, you’re telling me that the five-star review on 2018 Fat Cat Wall Calendar (amzn.to/2JMAG05) wasn’t an important factor in making that purchase? When someone takes the time to share, “The pictures are hilarious and obviously no cats were harmed in making this. Some cats are just fat” you know that’s some honest and influential feedback.

In sticking with the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon shares information with sellers and potential sellers about the importance of their online review process (bit.ly/2K1T2th). Highlights include that research suggests that 90% of consumers find online reviews influential in their purchasing decisions. Also, Amazon has strictly banned sponsored reviews and if it even suspects a seller of routing sponsored or inaccurate reviews to its product page, that seller will be banned.

That unravels another layer to the online purchaser review process. Many retailers give products to consumers for free in order to receive reviews. According to FTC Endorsement Guides, it must be disclosed if reviews are sponsored. More specific FAQs at bit.ly/1FRMynQ give a nice snapshot of the types of scenarios and gray areas online influencers and reviewers are concerned with.

In short, if you received the item for free, or were paid or compensated in any way for your opinion, you have to let us know. It’s common to see notes from large retailers like Target in the reviews that say that the customer received the item in exchange “for their honest feedback”. For real, Target, how do I get on that list (bit.ly/2hYhG1I)? Why don’t you just meet me in the middle?

Review culture also goes hand-in-hand with instant gratification, free expedited shipping, free returns, and the high levels of customer service we have all come to expect from retailers. There is a reason customers choose to do business with companies like Amazon, Target, Nordstrom, USAA, and Ritz Carlton. Based on personal experiences or those we read in reviews, we know that these organizations make doing business with them easy and when something isn’t right, they do what it takes to make it right.

Just this week I had to cut ties with a retailer for not refunding or replacing a defective $7.00 item. I have spent hundreds of dollars with this retailer, which by the way is struggling financially, and they wouldn’t correct a $7.00 mistake. They have now lost a customer and one that will and has told the general public about the experience in person and online. Do you think its customer service policies or lack thereof contributed to its financial difficulties? Do you think my negative review will ultimately affect another customer’s purchasing decisions?

My gut (and research – bit.ly/2o7uQJf) tell me yes.

Third (I know the second point was long), Chrissy all the way. Terri was lame. I have not been paid or compensated for this review in any way.