- Many shoppers look to online reviews before buying a product or service.
- Even if there’s a large range of reviews, the extreme ones tend to stick in a person’s mind – especially the negative ones.
- For more accurate, useful reviews, recommends one expert, start by reading the ones that are middle-of-the-road, about three stars.
If you’ve ever had second thoughts about clicking “buy” online after scrolling into the reviews section and reading about how the meal, bed, or weekend was HORRIBLE and said reviewer will NEVER BUY IT AGAIN because it was a massive WASTE OF MONEY, you’re not alone.
“Who are these people?” you might think to yourself. “Who finds the time to write reviews like this?”
And maybe, you wonder: “Should I listen?”
Probably not, writes Caroline Beaton in a fascinating New York Times story about why negative online reviews can’t be trusted.
Online reviewers – the non-bot ones who are leaving genuine reviews, anyway – probably aren’t representing the typical experience.
For one thing, reviewers are self-selecting. According to a 2014 study by Eric T. Anderson and Duncan I. Simester cited by Beaton, people who take the time to write online reviews are more likely than the average shopper to:
- Buy things in unusual sizes
- Return purchases
- Shop sales
- Buy more products
That’s why, Lauren Dragan told Beaton, the most useful reviews are probably the ones that aren’t HORRIBLE or WONDERFUL, but somewhere in the middle: around three stars. Dragan is the audio tech products reviewer at Wirecutter, so she’s presumably much better-versed in the accuracy and usefulness than the average reader.
Here’s Dragan’s advice, in Beaton’s words:
“When you’re reading reviews, try to find ones that are closer to the median, Ms. Dragan advised. She deliberately looks at three-star reviews first because they tend to be more moderate, detailed, and honest. Unfortunately, researchsuggests that most of us instinctively do just the opposite: We prefer extreme reviews because they’re less ambivalent and therefore easier to process.”
Alan Henry supports this approach on Lifehacker. “Too often we perceive a four-or-five star review as ‘ok,’ and anything less as unacceptable, but some of my favourite restaurants average 2.5 or 3 stars on Yelp,” he wrote. “If I’d focused on star reviews only, I may have avoided them, but a scan of their reviews reveals that no one thought there was anything wrong, they just weren’t blown away either.”
In 2017, search company Bright Localfound that about half of those surveyed won’t consider using a business with an average of less than four stars.
Perhaps they should be looking for three.
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