Re­views: Not ev­ery star shines so bright

The Week (US) - - Business -

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 fives­tar rat­ing on my re­cent search for a ho­tel in Maine.”

Ama­zon has stepped up the ef­fort to pro­vide trans­parency, said Louise Mat­sakis in 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 The Hus­ “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?

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