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Buyer Beware. Interpreting Online Reviews

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)

A few weeks ago, a reader contacted me. He was interested in purchasing a Blanco Silgranit sink after reading one of my previous columns. I had described how a few of my clients had put them in their kitchens. I like the styles, color selection, texture, and the fact that they are nonporous, and stain and scratch-resistant. But the reader also forwarded an online link to some unfavorable reviews.

I had a few preconceived notions about these reviews and was curious to see how they would fair. Reviews are usually helpful and can sway a decision one way or the other. But it goes without saying that some may be bogus, unreasonable, written by a competitor, or even written internally by someone wanting to promote a product.

That aside, the first red flag was that the reviews were not written on Blanco’s website but on one that bears the same name as the largest and longest river in the world. This supported my first preconceived notion. Some of these sinks were not purchased through Blanco but through unaffiliated sources. In other words, there was no guarantee that these sinks were authentic, undamaged, or not missing a part or a warranty.

There was a good sampling of 103 reviews. Seventy-seven percent gave a five-star rating. Seven percent gave a one-star rating. The first one-star noted a crack in the sink and complained about poor vendor service. Since the sink was not purchased through Blanco, it’s hard to know if it was a real Silgranit sink but easy to know that the vendor was not Blanco.

The next one-star described not being able to find a phone number to complain about water stains. Somehow, this person managed to order a sink online and post a review online, but didn’t know how to find a phone number online. If the sink had come from Blanco, contact information would certainly have been included. Additionally, Blanco provides a video on their website and on YouTube showing how to care for their sinks and, yes, water stains come out using one of a few common household cleaners.

The rest of the complaints continued to point back to the fact that the product was not purchased through Blanco or were a result of damage through shipping. Because of this, I could not whole-heartedly endorse the complaints. Even so, I called one of the product designers at Blanco. She confirmed what I already knew and also told me something I didn’t. A consumer might purchase a similar sink thinking its Silgranit just because the color is given the same name. Silgranit colors such as “anthracite”, “truffle” and “café brown” are noteworthy.

She also told me that she has designed for Blanco for 30 years and that the Silgranit sink has seven patents. It was also given the “bowling ball down the shoot” test. I don’t know exactly what this is but it sounded reassuring. She did say that a sink could possibly sustain a hairline fracture during shipping and may not be visible until it is further stressed during the installation. Blanco replaces damaged goods under its Limited Lifetime Warranty. By the way, I am not affiliated with, or rewarded by, Blanco. I just like their sinks – and their faucets (an upcoming column).

Although I’ve focused on Blanco Silgranit sinks, this story applies to every product available online. I’ve run into knock-offs and seconds in every building and furnishing category. It’s a constant challenge for legitimate vendors and manufacturers to keep their good names and customer loyalty. Plumbing is particularly difficult because purchasers cannot see the inside of certain fixtures. Hard to know if they are plastic (knock-offs) or brass they until they fail. Replacing them ends up costing more than buying the real deal in the first place.

I’m not opposed to buying product online but do advise that you know what you’re buying and from whom. And, a touch of skepticism and cynicism comes in handy when reading reviews.

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