Spotify and the problem with customer ratings and reviewsWe all know that customer reviews can boost trust and credibility, and
as such they can drive serious improvements to conversion rates and
search rankings.

But Houston, we have a problem. The problem with customer reviews is this: the lack of proper customers.

The launch of the Spotify iPhone app demonstrates this issue quite clearly.
Non-paying customers are giving one-star ratings to the app on the
basis that they are non-paying customers!

Spotify is without question my favourite app of the year (closely followed by the delightful joys of Posterous). I’ve been waiting for a Spotify iPhone app since the service first launched, but I became a paid-up subscriber months ago on the basis of a great service that I use all the time. Paying 30p a day to access a comprehensive music library seemed like a no-brainer for me. I’ve long argued about the benefits of access rather than ownership for music and media, and a service as good as Spotify represents great value for me personally (I listen to a lot of music).

So today my colleague Graham Charlton told me that the app was live (and promptly published a review of the Spotify iPhone app). I downloaded it immediately and thankfully it does not in any way disappoint.

Let me rephrase that: it does not disappoint me. So why, in less than 12 hours, has it accumulated a measly three-star rating?

Some 173 ‘customers’ have rated it, and judging by the ratings it polarises people more than the average Tom Waits or Ariel Pink record. The vast majority of ratings are either five stars, or one star. It’s an either/or game and having tested the app I can understand the five star reviews (the app is actually very good) but why so many one-star reviews?

You guessed it: cheapskates.

Let’s now have a look at some of these one-star reviews:

  • “Why it is free on the computer and not on the iPhone is something I still cannot understand”
  • “: (“
  • “Only for premium subscribers… Why???”
  • “Rubbish that you need a premium account!”
  • “I would rather pay for the app than pay monthly”
  • “Far far too expensive.”
  • “Since when did free mean paying ten pounds a month, huge fail.”
  • “OK I didn’t pay a penny for this app but had such big expectations.”
  • “I’m not paying to rent music.”
  • “: (  :  (“

Lots of unhappy faces. But the app information screen states under ‘Requirements’ that a Spotify Premium Subscription is needed, so this kind of bitching seems petty to say the least. Then again, everybody wants something for free, and because Spotify is positioned as a free app it could cause confusion, particularly as many people won’t bother to properly read the requirements before downloading it.

Perhaps Spotify should sell the app? Could it sell it for a one-off £99 for a year, or for a monthly £9.99? Does the iTunes Store offer subscription functionality to allow this to happen? And would Spotify be happy to cede 30% of revenue to Apple? It all sounds a lot more complex than simply offering the app for free.

In any event, there is perhaps a more general lesson for us all here. Allowing freeheads to rate products might not be the best idea, given that they are only going to be disappointed once they realise the ‘free’ version doesn’t live up to expectations. Customer reviews should be exactly that: reviews by customers. No pay, no say.

Exactly the same thing happened when Amazon (an undisputed heavyweight of customer reviews) launched the Kindle. In fact, the Kindle product page on Amazon attracted more than 300 reviews and a bunch of low ratings before it was launched. The reason for the bad reviews was linked to the fact that it wasn’t widely available! Outrage!

Reviews from prospective ‘customers’ are not to be trusted, add nothing to the accuracy of ratings and may be doing more harm than good.

[Image by bbaunach via Flickr, various rights reserved]