Internet Shopping Information - Consider the Source
Saturday, October 8, 2011
I was in a thread at Home Barista.com where it was asked as to whether it was a good move to upgrade their espresso machine or their grinder. The actual brand or models is not the subject here as there are deeper issues I wish to address. I wanted to make sure I was speaking knowledgeably (or at least, more knowledgeably than I might have at seven in the morning), so I did a Google search for the machine to refresh my early-morning, pre-coffee memory.
Google returned more hits than anyone might need, but there were a few review pages on page one so I clicked a few and took a look. One site in particular really was troubling. It reflected a trend on the Internet of "click-through" review pages. These have a link on the page which is coded from the review site so if a purchase is made there is some level of income to the originating website. Did I say "income"? A more appropriate word would be "kickback." Income would infer someone worked for the money.
As I read the page it was clear that the reviewer was not very knowledgeable and the page was filled with lots of flourish and fanfare but little in the way of helpful facts other than multi-syllabic adjectives. I became suspicious and did some further digging into the site. There was absolutely no information as to who owned the site, who wrote the review, no "about us" page, or any identifiable information. Nothing. The domain exists on GoDaddy and is registered through "Domains by Proxy." That company is specifically set up to isolate the registrant from folks like me who want to know. Interestingly enough, Domains by Proxy is owned by Bob Parsons who also owns GoDaddy.
So right off there were enough warning flags to make one click on the little "X" at the top, right-hand corner of the page. You have noticed that I have not identified the actual website, an omission made with purpose. I don't want that site to get any more clicks than the one I gave it. But let's examine and dissect some of the content of that page. The item in question here was the Expobar Brewtus II. That is a very nice machine, and in my opinion, anyone with some knowledge of espresso machines should be able to post some good and helpful information about it. Quote from the page followed by my comments:
"Very few home espresso makers have a reputation as sparkling as the Expobar Brewtus II espresso machine. This beautifully designed model is actually a redesign of its even more popular predecessor. Often called the single best home unit in the world, this model is known for the best shots, the easiest cleanup and the best design of any popular model."
Those are the first sentences of the review. For those who have studied advertising copy, this would make a good example of how to write it. Puffery is the term used to describe such comments. The Federal Trade Commission defined puffery as: "..the exaggerations reasonably to be expected of a seller as to the degree of quality of his product, the truth or falsity of which cannot be precisely determined." When you see phrases like, "Very few... often called... known for... best," you have found puffery. All you have to do is find one person to testify to those as being true to avoid prosecution, and in many cases you don't even need that. But the point is that the rest of the review followed the same lines. Here are a few more gems of puffery:
"Most people would expect a fully automated machine at this price, but it is good to know there are still some semi automatic machines at this price range..."
Still some semi automatics in the price range... Some? I suppose "a vast majority" qualifies as "some."
"The bottom line is that this machine is for the true coffee connoisseur. If you can't get enough of your local coffee house, than this is the perfect drink for you."
Have you ever considered an espresso machine a drink? This could be a poor effort at translation, but more likely a cut-and-pasts mistake.
"...no one would really be too surprised to see your local coffee house use one once in a while."
No one? I am someone and I would be very surprised to find this being used commercially.
"There are probably a thousand other units out there that cost less than this one and brew shots that are comparable to this model, but if you want or need the best machine in the business, than this unit is worth it."
Best? Really? But the disclaimer, "probably," is the qualifier here. But this puffery thing is easy to do. Here's one from me: "There are probably millions of websites like this that are filled with information as valuable as the contents of an inflated child's balloon."
"This is the ultimate home brewing station..."
Ultimate, in this case, means, "the best of its kind." This isn't it. But "brewing station" would infer that the purchase is all-encompassing and contains everything you need to make espresso. This does not.
OK. That's enough. But it is a good sampling of the content of the page in question. But what is missing? The omissions are glaringly obvious if you have been around espresso machines for any length of time. Lacking is any technical information such as boiler size, power consumption, physical size, or weight. Not a single word. No mention of E-61, PID, nor digital temperature control. I did some further research and found out that the Brewtus II is a dual-boiler machine! That's a HUGE piece of information not even mentioned there. Absolutely not a single word that would help a buyer make an educated comparison to any other machine.
Of course, there was no mention of using quality beans and no word about a good grinder. I can easily excuse that, but the rest? It was with sites such as that one that led me, a few years ago, to post the following at the top of my page of links on my website:
To All Coffee-Related Websites and their Representatives: I have received many requests to link websites which offer little or no content of real value on their own merit. Some have been pages of harvested eBay links to coffee-related items which can be easily searched for by the buyer, and others contain information which, being kind, I can only describe as "fluff." There are others as well, but the one thing these sites have in common is that they are supported by click-though advertising revenue. If you have such a site, please be aware that I will not list such sites here. Requests from bots, address harvesting sites or third party entities will not be honored nor replied to. Requests such as, "If you want your link on my page, put my link on yours first..." will also be discarded. If you are an advertising or web-relations company, if I receive a request from you for a site already linked, your company's E-mail address will be placed on a permanent kick-ban list. Why? If you don't have the time to check my site for your link, I won't take the time to read your E-mail messages.
So in this case, if you take the time to consider the source, you are out of luck. How can you when, in essence, there isn't one!