Recently, Caroline Beaton, writing for the New York Times, explored the topic of whether or not to trust a shopper or user review. While we’ve explored how a small business owner should respond to (or not) reviews, we thought Beaton’s article provides some insight to customers, not just sellers, about who writes reviews and why even the Great Wall of China only receives 4.4 stars. Here are some interesting facts and suggestions from her article.

Reviews are read by a large audience

82% | Percentage of American adults who say they sometimes (or always) read online reviews for new purchases.
66% | Regular review readers who believe reviews are “generally accurate.”

People believe negative reviews more than positive ones (and why)

There are many more positive reviews than negative ones which creates a “scarcity of negative reviews” that we associate with value, according to Duncan Simester, a marketing professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. “The infrequent nature of negative reviews may help to distinguish them from other reviews,”

According to a study published in 2014 by The Journal of Marketing Research 

4.8% | Percentage of one-star reviews in an analysis of a large-scale database of Amazon reviews with a verified purchase
59% | Percentage of the reviews in the study that had five stars

Reviews are subjective, and the tiny subset of people who write them aren’t average. People who write online reviews are more likely to…

…buy things in unusual sizes
…bake returns
…be married
…have more children
…Be younger and less wealthy
…have more graduate degrees than the average consumer
…are 50 percent more likely to shop sales

How to better understand customer reviews

Weed out the most extreme reviews

It’s better to look for three-star reviews because they tend to be more moderate, detailed and honest. Unfortunately, research suggests that most of us often do just the opposite: We prefer extreme reviews because they’re less ambivalent and therefore easier to process.

Look for reviews from someone that seems like you

A bicycle may be for commuters, off-road biking or a wide range of other types of uses. Look for reviews written by someone who is at your level of experience and needs.

Pay attention to contextual details and specific facts rather than reviewers’ general impressions and ratings.

The number of stars someone selects often has “very little to do with” their review text. People have different rating standards, and written explanations are inherently more nuanced.

Two clues for filtering out fake reviews

  1. Look for long reviews. According to research, readers are more accurate about identifying fake reviews the longer the review is.
  2. Fake reviewers tend to have a fewer number of total reviews. Why? Someone who’s paid to write reviews probably isn’t doing a lot of writing under the same name.


Photos | Getty Images

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