Amazon review stars

How trustworthy are Amazon product ratings?

Whether it’s a few times a week or a few times a year, most of us order things online and have them delivered to our houses. The benefits of this are many, including convenience and, right now, the ability to self-isolate. But the downsides are that we aren’t able to see the product in person or hold it in our hands to get a feel for if we really want to buy it.

To help deal with that issue, most online marketplaces let users review products that they’ve purchased. Those reviews are meant to help others decide if they want to order the item.

I’ve found online reviews to be just an OK source of information. Most people that are happy with a product aren’t going to go online and say how great it is. It’s the ones that are dissatisfied that will go online to vent their frustration. But there’s good reason to take the positive reviews with a grain of salt too.

It was recently reported that Amazon deleted 20,000 reviews from it’s store. Amazon deleted the reviews after it was brought to light that several reviewers were likely receiving free products in return for the reviews. One of the reviewers received over $15,000 worth of products just in August (this reviewer would post a five-star review on average once every four hours). That reviewer would then go on to sell those products on eBay or other sites, making that much or more from them. When asked about their activity, the reviewer denied receiving compensation for their reviews but then deleted their entire review history.

But paid reviews aren’t the only problem with Amazon’s review system. If you look at an item on Amazon and go to the reviews, you’ll end up seeing reviews for that item but also similar items. In some cases this isn’t much of a problem, but for most I would imagine you’d want to see reviews only for the item you’re currently looking at. This can be an incredible issue if you’re looking at a piece of equipment, like a monitor. Amazon will group reviews for widescreen monitors with non-widescreen monitors. They’ll group reviews for monitors with differing specs, like frame rate and resolution. This means that a product that isn’t good will end up with an overall higher rating because it’ll have reviews from other, inevitably better products lumped in with it.

It’s also becoming harder to spot these fake reviews. A person receiving thousands of dollars worth of products every month will take 30 or more minutes to leave a well-written and thoughtful, yet completely unreliable, positive review of the product so that they can keep receiving more products in the future.

So what can we do about this? Well right now there’s not a lot we can do aside from ignoring the review system on Amazon.

You can certainly buy your items elsewhere. Target has a good two-day delivery option if you spend a certain amount. If you’re curious, there are browser extensions (such as for ReviewMeta or FakeSpot — both also available as apps for iOS and Android) that will remove reviews from other items and attempt to spot any fake reviews to give you a better idea of what the true rating really is.

Jason Ogaard is a software engineer who formerly lived in Hutchinson. He welcomes your technology questions, and he’ll answer them in this place. Please send your questions to technobabble@hutchinsonleader.com.

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