It’s hard to know where to start when you’re looking for a local business to frequent. You can go a basic online search, sure, but that only tells you which companies exist in your area. It doesn’t do a whole lot to tell you which companies are reliable and trustworthy. Yes, there are reviews, but there are some serious issues with online reviews. A few online reviews here and there shouldn’t be taken as gospel, especially since people are way more likely to review a company after they have a negative experience than after they have a positive experience. To some extent, picking out a business and giving them your money is a leap of faith, but there are some ways for you to reduce the size of that leap, at least.
Look for longevity
First of all, try to determine just how long the company has been operating in your hometown. The places that have been around a while will usually be quite proud of it. You might go to the company website and see something like “Serving Hometown Proudly Since 1974.” Companies are looking for ways to stand out in the Internet era, and proving they’re sturdy and capable of standing the test of time is one way to do that. Let’s say you just moved to Newark, New Jersey because you got a job in New York City. Your furnace is having some issues, so you navigate to your favorite search engine and type in something like “residential heating services in Essex County NJ.” You’re more likely to be drawn to a business that has been around a while and has a solid Internet presence rather than one that has only been open a couple of years and has a shoddy website.
Look for patterns in reviews
Online reviews are too ubiquitous to dismiss completely, but you do need to approach them with a skeptical eye. The more outrageous the claims, the more skeptical you should be. There are plenty of fake reviews out there, and there are plenty of people who are what’s known in high school English classes as “unreliable narrators.” If one reviewer claims fast food restaurant workers purposely poisoned him, punched him in the face, and flirted with his girlfriend, then you should be very skeptical. Similarly, if a reviewer claims that eating a restaurant’s homemade salsa cured her sister’s lupus, you should dismiss that as well.
However, if multiple reviews praise the freshness of a grocery store’s deli cheeses, then that’s worth noticing. Look across multiple review sites, since it’s all too easy for one site to be full of bogus reviews. If multiple people across multiple review sites complain about something, it’s up to you to decide if that’s a potential dealbreaker or not.
The bigger the purchase, the more research you should do. Buying a car requires writing a huge check or signing up for years of monthly payments. Don’t just stumble into the first dealership you find and ask to see their selection of minivans. You don’t want to take any chances. However, you might want to take a chance on the dive bar that just opened up down the street from work, even if the reviews are mixed. You only have to spend an hour or two at a bar, after all, and it’s pretty hard to mess up beer. And, luckily, you don’t have to depend on the bar to get you to work every morning.