Reviews: Not every star shines so bright
It’s funny how readily we “take the advice of complete strangers” when shopping online, said Joanne Chen in The New York Times. More than 80 percent of “Americans say they read online reviews at least some of the time.” But on sites such as Amazon and Yelp, businesses have learned to “exploit the rating system to the seller’s or the platform’s advantage,” ultimately “rendering the star-rating scale useless.” Even in the case of verified reviews, it can be hard to know what the stars mean. For hotel searches, for instance, five stars can simply “mean everything is what I expected,” which may explain how a budget-level “Hampton Inn averaged a five-star rating on my recent search for a hotel in Maine.”
Amazon has stepped up the effort to provide transparency, said Louise Matsakis in Wired.com. Its “Vine Voices” program sends free merchandise for testing to an invite-only community of “trusted reviewers.” Amazon has also started ranking its Top 10,000 Contributors on a daily leaderboard not “just by the number of reviews a person has but also by how many customers found their feedback to be helpful.” The current No. 1 reviewer is a 66-year-old from North Dakota who has posted nearly 2,500 appraisals since 2002, said Kim Hyatt in the Fargo, N.D., Forum. Charles William Anderson has “owned a bakery in Oregon, worked for a small newspaper, started a magazine for $22, and had a 10-year stint in the Navy as a nuclear welding inspector.” Now he spends his time testing everything from air fryers and popcorn makers to dog food and motor oil—and a Segway that he credited with giving him a very smooth ride, though he exceeded its weight limit by 70 pounds.
But sellers are still finding ways to deceive prospective buyers, said Zachary Crockett in TheHustle.co. “I identified more than 150 private Facebook groups where sellers openly exchange free products” for five-star reviews. I joined four of them and was “barraged with a flurry of private messages from vendors hawking” water flosses, dog-grooming tools, and fanny packs. One offered to pay me $10 for a sterling review of what was already “one of the highest-ranked iPhone chargers, touting 3,971 five-star reviews and a trusted ‘Amazon choice’ label.” When it arrived, the charger broke within minutes. I reached out to Amazon and those thousands of five-star reviews for the charger disappeared. “The product now has 11 reviews and holds a rating of 2.5 stars.” But before all those disappeared, “how many shoppers spotted this $13.99 charger pack on Amazon’s first-page results” and fell for the scam? ■