Rogue Rolex Reviews & Social Trust

While snark is apparently the official language of the Internet, for better or for worse, it’s not very often that you come across random acts of sarcasm in places you don’t expect…like Amazon. In my husband’s aimless browsing, he recently found a treasure trove of sarcastic reviews of ridiculously expensive watches: a $34,000 Rolex, an $81,779 Zenith (has anyone heard of this brand before?), andanother Rolex. Need to even out that table on your yacht? Don’t overlook the functionality of a Rolex.

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Aside from providing some surprising laughs in an unexpected place, I thought these reviews raised some interesting questions about how we think about online reviews.

I’ve become a recent devotee of Airbnb – for anyone living under a rock for the past year – this site allows anyone to rent a spare room or their entire house or apartment out to travelers and tourists. The site relies on an elaborate system for verifying users “real” identities via social networking profiles as well as requires a “real” telephone number for hosts or potential renters to contact each other. But, the true beauty of this site is in the reviews. Hearing about a potential host’s hospitality, the complimentary bike borrowed to tour the city, the homemade iced tea on offer in the fridge, these are the touches that soothe my nerves when I’m considering shelling out hundreds of dollars to people I’ve never met in a city I’ve (usually) never visited. These kind of reviews are the norm on airbnb, where users seem to really take care to represent their experiences. As a renter, I rely heavily on these reviews and take their authenticity for granted.

Obviously we rely on online reviews for a lot these days…but for me, it’s only when faced with a significant financial investment that I start to realize how fragile this system is, and how much it relies on trusting absolute strangers. This kind of social trust is easier to swallow when picking a restaurant or learning about hiking trails in your new town. But, for many people, trusting one’s vacation plans (or luxury watch purchase) to the “wisdom of the crowd” is too much to ask.

The crowd wisdom theory is based on a statistical phenomenon that occurs when, in great numbers, individual biases cancel each other out and can end up accurately guessing an ox’s weight at a fair (according to Sir Francis Galton) or other more useful things. However, according to recent research, being informed about other’s choices when making your own choice actually screws up the statistical magic at work that underlies the “wisdom of crowds” hypothesis. So, obsessively reading through the reviews of a restaurant may bias my opinion of their marionberry pancakes*? Perhaps all of this sharing of our opinions online has more of an effect than we ever imagined…especially on our Rolex purchases.

*Portlandia reference…it’s streaming on Netflix, get watching!

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9 thoughts on “Rogue Rolex Reviews & Social Trust

  1. Such an interesting point! I recently started using FourSquare for the reviews, and I noticed that I generally agree with them. Are you saying these reviews can act like a self-fulfilling prophecy, or are there multiple ways that they affect our opinions?

    • my guess is that there are multiple ways we’re affected by them, but so far the research seems to suggest that the words of others shape our experiences to be similar to theirs. This makes sense on the level of how online communities end up establishing informal norms and, in the case of reviews-based sites, ways of critiquing or praising.

  2. The whole idea of buying a watch that expensive on Amazon strikes me as slightly discordant. I guess I’ve been influenced by the cultural ideal of a purchase that big as rightfully being done in a ritzy store that requires sport coats to get in (I don’t shop at such stores, but that rule applied at a jewelry store in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm). If I’m going to spend that much money, I’m expecting a little more personal attention and guidance than I can get on Amazon. Not to mention the fact that the Amazon route opens me up to ridicule for my use of my (hypothetical) money from the likes of these reviewers. I want privacy when I’m spending that much money on something because otherwise, if my transaction is public and open, I open myself up to ridicule of my taste or my assessment of what is a good use of money.

    • The other angle I was trying to work into this post was about how – as much as we’ve embraced online shopping – there are some things that we purchase that have stubbornly resisted inclusion into this new shopping practice. I think expensive luxury goods are definitely a part of that category! Why though? Is it just about customer service experience? Or is it something about seeing the physical object you’re buying before you put down the money?

      Also interesting that you mentioned privacy Matthew – technically on Amazon your purchases are more private than those made at a fancy store where you might be seen and judged by an employee or a fellow capitalist pig : ) Those Amazon reviews could be seen as second-hand judgements of people like you who would buy Rolex’s on Amazon (because I know you’re secretly itching to do that!), but not of your individual purchase.

      • For me, its something about seeing the physical object before putting the money down. I think I always worry that there is something in the fine print that I didn’t see that actually says the product is a different version or size, and its hard to trust pictures. Reviews definitely help, although there is a price point at which my trust in reviews just isn’t strong enough to outweigh my skepticism or concern.

      • Julia, I thought about the question of whether there’s more privacy in person at a jewelry store vs online and I see your point, but I figured that the sort of people I’d run into as employees or fellow shoppers at an ultra-exclusive jewelry store wouldn’t be the type to ridicule or denounce me for my interest in expensive trinkets, while mingling amongst the filthy masses of Amazon would expose me and my tastes to more potential ridicule, even if there isn’t a face attached to it the way that there would be in person.

  3. I love the rationale that the author wrote about posting this recipe: “I’m publishing this recipe because I’m sure that there are other families who have members, who don’t know how or have forgotten how to make ice when the ice tray is empty.”

    My mom always complains that my dad never fills the ice cube trays when he’s done, and based on the reviews this is a common marital complaint!

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