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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Vanisko

Is the Five-Star Review System Broken?

Person holding cell phone showing five-star review stars

Everyone knows the five-star review system. It’s on everything from Amazon to Uber. Consumers often use these reviews to analyze and educate themselves on products and services to determine how “real people” feel before making their purchase.


Online ratings and reviews significantly impact customers’ buying decisions. In fact, nearly 95% of consumers read online reviews before making their purchase (Spiegel Research Center). In addition, 82% of consumers actually seek out negative reviews before making their purchase.


Naturally, every company wants to get five-star ratings. Companies know that consumers rely on these reviews to make their purchasing decisions and thus some may do unethical and sometimes illegal activities to improve their ratings. It is their common belief that perfect ratings lead to more sales. But realistically, this is not always the case.


People are jaded about reviews and testimonials that are online and hard to verify. Even the best companies will have some bad reviews. Nobody can satisfy 100% of customers, so I think a perfect five is a red flag, really”, said Tim Clarke, Rize Review’s Senior Reputation Manager.


When it comes to assessing five-star reviews, the product or the service being reviewed is very important in the evaluation process. People are reluctant to give a poor review when the service they are providing is face-to-face. They do not want to be personally responsible for a bad review having a direct impact on someone’s livelihood. So much so, that for some services five-star reviews are thrown out like candy at a parade. For Uber, 5-star reviews are practically the norm, and for Lyft, drivers with a rating below 4.6 risk being deactivated.


Apps introduced ratings to reward high performers and help users make better choices. Many Apps are specifically designed to encourage perfect reviews. They make the reviewers jump through hoops when anything less than 5 stars is given. Guilt and the desire to avoid hassle have contributed to ratings inflation making most of these ratings practically meaningless.   


On the other hand, when it comes to faceless interactions, like the consumer goods available on Amazon, review evaluation needs to be handled differently. People tend to write reviews when they are passionate about something, often this passion is because the product or service did not meet their expectations, thus poor reviews may be overstated. Consumers still want to be informed before they purchase, they often look to reviews to see the company’s response to a negative review and to determine if the flaw in the product or service was a repetitive issue. However, companies may try to bury poor reviews by purchasing or incentivizing good reviews. They believe that a ton of excellent reviews will outweigh a few poor reviews. Some will go to any length to make that happen including purchasing good reviews to outweigh the poor reviews. 


As a company, it is important to manage your reviews. Online reviews are the modern word-of-mouth strategy. Seventy-two percent of consumers said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family. Brands must be transparent about their flaws to earn people’s trust. Brands can prove that they have nothing to hide by displaying good and bad ratings and reviews.


As a consumer, it is important to evaluate reviews to determine if they are fake. Before purchasing, it is recommended that a consumer look to a variety of sources for trustworthy and impartial reviews. A large number of reviews in a short period of time and multiple reviews with the same exact wording from different reviewers could indicate that the reviews were purchased. Reviews can also be hijacked, which is a type of fake review that occurs when a brand or retailer repurposes a review from one product and applies it to a substantially different product. In this case, look to make sure that the review “makes sense” for the product or service.  


Product and service reviews are important for both the brand and the consumer. Each needs to take responsibility to ensure that the information provided is accurate and real, otherwise the system will collapse. However, there will always be a few bad apples trying to scam you, investing a bit of time reviewing the reviews will benefit you as a consumer.


About A3 Media

A3 transforms media from an expense into a smart investment. Since 1997, we have successfully helped regional businesses launch new products, expand into new markets and increase sales through media plans that make every dollar spent do more. Our clients include brands such as Yuengling and Ashley Furniture. For more information about how A3 Media can help your digital marketing efforts, please call A3 Media at (610) 631-5500.

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