Beware of Amazon product reviews: New research finds they can mislead you

Online reviews of services and products are meant to give other consumers a quick idea of their quality. Though helpful in most cases, new research has pointed towards the possible disadvantages of becoming heavily reliant on reviews. The team behind a recent study discovered that consumers will often prefer a product with more reviews, regardless of its rating. The results of this fascinating study are published in Psychological Science.

Led by Derek Powell of Stanford University, the team sought to analyze the way people used reviews and ratings to choose products. They worked off real-world data showing that review numbers were not indicative of the true quality of a product. “It’s extremely common for websites and apps to display the average score of a product along with the number of reviews. Our research suggests that, in some cases, people might take this information and make systematically bad decisions with it,” explained Powell.

With this mind, they enlisted 132 adult participants in an online experiment to look at various phone cases, which were presented to them in pairs. Each phone had an average user rating and total number of reviews, and the phone cases with the greatest number of reviews were also the most-favored by the participants. This remained prevalent throughout the experiment, even when both phone cases had low ratings.

The second experiment yielded the same results. For this part of their study, the researchers collected reviews from and used that data to create a statistical model of how consumers should select products, then compared that model against the behavior of the participants. “Under certain conditions, people preferred a product with more reviews to one with fewer reviews even though the statistical model indicated that the latter was likely to be of higher quality than the former,” the researchers wrote. They further noted that the vast majority of people used review numbers as a gauge of the product’s popularity and quality separately from the product’s average rating.

In a statement to, Powell commented that their findings speak heavily of both consumers and retailers. “Consumers try to use information about other people’s experiences to make good choices, and retailers have an incentive to steer consumers toward products they will be satisfied with. Our data suggest that retailers might need to rethink how reviews are presented and consumers might need to do more to educate themselves about how to use reviews to guide their choices,” said Powell. (Related: Internet being wildly polluted with fake reviews, fake complaints against local businesses.)

Essentially, making smart purchasing decisions should be based on more than just review number. Keep in mind that many of these reviews can be faked or bought or not speak about the quality of the product at all. Lots of research and careful consideration should be put into every purchase lest your wallet suffer from it.

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