Five Tips for Interpreting Amazon Reviews

 

I’m back once again to help you navigate the confusing world of Amazon reviews.  My hope is that following these five tips will save you several hours of scrolling and clicking for just the right product, as well as an extra UPS trip to send back a crummy product.

Tip 1: Consider any average rating below 4.5 stars to be a yellow flag.  Yes, 4 out of 5 stars looks pretty good when you’re scrolling. But if you keep in mind that there often seems to be a disproportionate number of five-star reviews under any product, due both to possible systemic corruption and to buyers’ seeming reluctance to shave their enthusiasm down to three or four stars, you’ll realize the one- and two-star reviews may have figured prominently in the final count. Just a quick scan through the reviews, and you’ll quickly notice if you have to wade through a big batch of noisy, unhappy customers before you get to the glowing comments.

Tip 2: Note the distribution of ratings. This is important, too. You might have a  4 or 4.5-star average rating. But how did the ‘bot arrive at this figure? The more promising product for you must feature a low percentage of one-star grievances. Three or five percent, a couch leg missing here, a smelly blanket there—well, it happens, right? However, if the graph of dissatisfaction stretches to 7 or 10 percent, you’ve got yourself a defective product. Steer clear. Another way of saying this is that the percentage of lukewarm or angry reviews communicate more information than do the five-star ones.

Tip 3: Scan five-star ratings to ensure they are referring to the product in question. Yep, that Snore-B-Gone device might be decorated with four stars, but you’d better read on and check that the reviewers all bought the same product before you purchase. I’m sure it’s all just an honest mistake, but you might find enthusiastic summer hat-buyers all jumbled up with disappointed customers who thought the newest apnea device was going to be a game-changer.

Tip 4: Read the one and two-star reviews. Here you might find the best insights on the product, and possibly be entertained in the process. This exercise is sure to serve as a wet blanket, but sometimes a dose of cold reality is what we need before adding that silver bullet to our cart.

Tip 5: Factor in how the company responded as you read customer perspectives. Reviews are powerful, and companies care about them. They know a three-star average product won’t sell. So you might be fine buying an item you’re not sure of, only to have it replaced three-fold if it arrives broken or it fails.

I look forward to seeing your further tips in the comments!

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  1. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    I do all five. Here’s two more. 
    6. Take note of how many “helpful” clicks a comment has. It usually gives the comment and rating some credibility if others are persuaded. 
    7. Review the questions and answers. You do get insights from the answers. 

    • #1
  2. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    The WSJ had a piece about fake reviews.  Don’t know if this is behind the paywall or not, but the gist is, companies get good reviews in exchange for free products.  The person buys the product so that it is a “verified purchase” and then the company reimburses them.  https://www.wsj.com/us-news/youre-probably-falling-for-fake-product-reviews-b4d07f23

    • #2
  3. Globalitarian Lower Order Misanthropist Coolidge
    Globalitarian Lower Order Misanthropist
    @Flicker

    Yes, I start at the worst reviews and work my way up.  By the time you get to three stars, you know pretty well what’s going on.  And actually it seems to me that five star reviews contribute nothing at all: This is the best thing ever!  Arrived in less time than I expected.  Very nice.  Just as advertised!  Many don’t even say that they’ve ever used it.  :)

    • #3
  4. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    Some people seem to be rating Amazon’s ability to deliver a product, not the goodness of the product delivered.  “5 stars, product came on time.”   Who does that??

    • #4
  5. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    I take a short cut: skip all 5 and 1 star reviews.  Start reading 4,3,2 stars (if there are enough left to bother with); most people who give an intermediate score give reasons for it. 

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Sort by most recent reviews first.  Amazon sometimes makes it hard to do that. Do it anyway. 

    • #6
  7. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    All I do is read the 1-stars.  Check to see if a:  They’re actually talking about the product in question, b: See if whatever they’re complaining about is something I can live with.  “Product was delivered damaged” doesn’t bother me.

    Assuming the 1-stars don’t put me off, I spot check a couple five stars.

    They really should go to thumbs-up/thumbs down reviews.

    • #7
  8. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    I take a short cut: skip all 5 and 1 star reviews. Start reading 4,3,2 stars (if there are enough left to bother with); most people who give an intermediate score give reasons for it.

    I too find more useful substantive information in 2, 3, and 4 star reviews.

    I scan 5 and 1 star reviews looking for repeated citations to the same feature or characteristic and then consider how important that feature or characteristic is to me. 

    I also tend to skip over the reviews that have a header indicating the review is the result of a promotion (I don’t recall if that is on Amazon reviews or on the reviews I read from stores). 

    On the rare occasions I do write a review I describe what I liked or didn’t like, and try to note what is my opinion as opposed to an objective fact. [I recently reviewed a shaving cream that had a very strong scent by noting that I liked the strong scent but I warned that people who don’t like a strong scent in their shaving cream should probably stay away.]

    Just as when I compliment our pastor on his sermon, I give him a specific reason I found it compelling or memorable or got me thinking, rather than just saying, “Great sermon.” (-: 

    • #8
  9. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Look for:

    A lot of one-or five-star reviews in one day.  Likely a bot or human cooking the books.

    Look at the reasons for one-star reviews.  Sometimes the reason can be as petty as “the item arrived a day late” or something like that.

    Be wary of any review that doesn’t provide a reason.  “Great product!” or “Piece of garbage!” doesn’t tell you anything.

    • #9
  10. Red Herring Coolidge
    Red Herring
    @EHerring

    I love reading the reviews every time a conservative publishes a book. Predictable and obvious leftie attempts to trash it can be quite humorous. 

    • #10
  11. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    One thing that is befuddling is when you see reviews for a book that hasn’t been released yet, and customers haven’t read it yet.  Amazon will show it on the site because some people may want to pre-order it.  You might see reviews saying, “I saw the author on TV and he’s a total jerk.  This book sucks!”  Or, “My friend said she read a book by this author ten years ago and it was awesome.”

    • #11
  12. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    One thing that is befuddling is when you see reviews for a book that hasn’t been released yet, and customers haven’t read it yet. Amazon will show it on the site because some people may want to pre-order it. You might see reviews saying, “I saw the author on TV and he’s a total jerk. This book sucks!” Or, “My friend said she read a book by this author ten years ago and it was awesome.”

    Sometimes a publisher will print advanced review copies for early distribution.  However, they send them out to critics and writers, not ordinary people.  This is the likely source of blurbs on the back cover . . .

    • #12
  13. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Stad (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    One thing that is befuddling is when you see reviews for a book that hasn’t been released yet, and customers haven’t read it yet. Amazon will show it on the site because some people may want to pre-order it. You might see reviews saying, “I saw the author on TV and he’s a total jerk. This book sucks!” Or, “My friend said she read a book by this author ten years ago and it was awesome.”

    Sometimes a publisher will print advanced review copies for early distribution. However, they send them out to critics and writers, not ordinary people. This is the likely source of blurbs on the back cover . . .

    Yup, but it’s not unusual to see reviews from people who admit they haven’t read the book.

    • #13
  14. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    I don’t normally do reviews but made an exception in one case. I said nothing negative at all. I described my experience with model 1.0 that I had used for years. Described the modifications of 2.0 that I thought were worthwhile. Listed what I thought were the limitations of the product. Those had nothing to do with overall quality, but were inherent in the design. Said I was happy with the purchase. 

    I got an e-mail saying that 25 people thought the review was helpful. In my spam folder about two weeks later was an e-mail from the company asking me to reconsider my rating and upgrade it to five stars because my review would “hurt the company”. Do they also expect a participation trophy? 

    • #14
  15. Globalitarian Lower Order Misanthropist Coolidge
    Globalitarian Lower Order Misanthropist
    @Flicker

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    One thing that is befuddling is when you see reviews for a book that hasn’t been released yet, and customers haven’t read it yet. Amazon will show it on the site because some people may want to pre-order it. You might see reviews saying, “I saw the author on TV and he’s a total jerk. This book sucks!” Or, “My friend said she read a book by this author ten years ago and it was awesome.”

    Sometimes a publisher will print advanced review copies for early distribution. However, they send them out to critics and writers, not ordinary people. This is the likely source of blurbs on the back cover . . .

    Yup, but it’s not unusual to see reviews from people who admit they haven’t read the book.

    I Liked your comment, but … I have a little inconsequential confession to make.

    • #15
  16. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    I have not yet figured how to weigh the “Vine voice” reviews. https://www.amazon.com/vine/about

    I have looked at several products where the only reviews are Vine voice reviews.

    Here’s an example. In this case, it looks like the Vine voice reviews are solicited for a new product:

    http://www.amazon.com/HXD-ERGO-Ergonomic-Attachment-Bodybuildng-Strength/dp/B0CHW3XGP6/

    • #16
  17. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    I have not yet figured how to weigh the “Vine voice” reviews. https://www.amazon.com/vine/about

    I have looked at several products where the only reviews are Vine voice reviews.

    Here’s an example. In this case, it looks like the Vine voice reviews are solicited for a new product:

    http://www.amazon.com/HXD-ERGO-Ergonomic-Attachment-Bodybuildng-Strength/dp/B0CHW3XGP6/

    Any Vine ratings of less than five stars can be instructive.

    • #17
  18. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews.  I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item  completely to benefit from all the good reviews.  That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product.

    I had a product that I was planning on giving a 5 star review (cheap Android tablet) but the vendor sent me a letter offering to pay me for a 5-star review.  No way I am doing that.

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews.  I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item  completely to benefit from all the good reviews.  That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product

    It’s one of the reasons to sort the reviews with most recent first, though that doesn’t eliminate all versions of the problem. 

    I check the reviews that are based on actual use of the product, even though they sometimes tempt me to say,  “I’m not interested in your silly little project.” Those are usually the useful reviews. 

    • #19
  20. Happy Grandma Lincoln
    Happy Grandma
    @jam

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Sort by most recent reviews first. Amazon sometimes makes it hard to do that. Do it anyway.

    I do this too. A five year old review isn’t very helpful to me.

    • #20
  21. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews. I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item completely to benefit from all the good reviews. That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product

    It’s one of the reasons to sort the reviews with most recent first, though that doesn’t eliminate all versions of the problem.

    I check the reviews that are based on actual use of the product, even though they sometimes tempt me to say, “I’m not interested in your silly little project.” Those are usually the useful reviews.

    To the contrary, if the older reviews are for a different product the seller is a fraudster and you should run away. That means any  good recent reviews are likely frauds.

    • #21
  22. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Red Herring (View Comment):

    I love reading the reviews every time a conservative publishes a book. Predictable and obvious leftie attempts to trash it can be quite humorous.

    “There are no “Es” in Klavan.”

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews. I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item completely to benefit from all the good reviews. That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product

    It’s one of the reasons to sort the reviews with most recent first, though that doesn’t eliminate all versions of the problem.

    I check the reviews that are based on actual use of the product, even though they sometimes tempt me to say, “I’m not interested in your silly little project.” Those are usually the useful reviews.

    To the contrary, if the older reviews are for a different product the seller is a fraudster and you should run away. That means any good recent reviews are likely frauds.

    More often it works the other way around.  I’ve never run into the pattern you describe, though I suppose it’s possible. More often a newer version of the product means it has been cheapened and is being sold on the basis of an older reputation.   

    • #23
  24. davenr321 Coolidge
    davenr321
    @davenr321

    You (we…) folks are pretty smart! Amazon ought be be paying attention.

    My method. look at the one-Star, filter out (I.e., avoid, there is no filter for this otherwise) the “arrived late,” and other delivery problem reviews, look for the “do not buy” and “could not get it to work” and “broke after x uses.” Afterwards, make a business decision. 

    Books are a little different. I either heard about it word of mouth (including podcasts, and blogs), then I first triage it by checking the library for availability. Then look for a free .pdf and/or audiobook, then the used book store, and then, finally, if I want to give the book to my kids after I’ve read it (we know this, right?), I buy it, and only through Amazon.

    I don’t bother with the book reviews of any stars, unless it says something like “this is just a rehashed Lionel Fanthorpe novel, but without the textbook” – and I thus most likely won’t purchase.

    • #24
  25. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews. I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item completely to benefit from all the good reviews. That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product

    It’s one of the reasons to sort the reviews with most recent first, though that doesn’t eliminate all versions of the problem.

    I check the reviews that are based on actual use of the product, even though they sometimes tempt me to say, “I’m not interested in your silly little project.” Those are usually the useful reviews.

    To the contrary, if the older reviews are for a different product the seller is a fraudster and you should run away. That means any good recent reviews are likely frauds.

    More often it works the other way around. I’ve never run into the pattern you describe, though I suppose it’s possible. More often a newer version of the product means it has been cheapened and is being sold on the basis of an older reputation.

    You are missing the point. If the advertised product is a Bluetooth headset, and all the early reviews are of a claw hammer, the seller is a scammer. Even though the recent reviews may be five star reviews referencing the headset, it is more likely that those are somehow fake because the seller is a scammer.

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews. I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item completely to benefit from all the good reviews. That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product

    It’s one of the reasons to sort the reviews with most recent first, though that doesn’t eliminate all versions of the problem.

    I check the reviews that are based on actual use of the product, even though they sometimes tempt me to say, “I’m not interested in your silly little project.” Those are usually the useful reviews.

    To the contrary, if the older reviews are for a different product the seller is a fraudster and you should run away. That means any good recent reviews are likely frauds.

    More often it works the other way around. I’ve never run into the pattern you describe, though I suppose it’s possible. More often a newer version of the product means it has been cheapened and is being sold on the basis of an older reputation.

    You are missing the point. If the advertised product is a Bluetooth headset, and all the early reviews are of a claw hammer, the seller is a scammer. Even though the recent reviews may be five star reviews referencing the headset, it is more likely that those are somehow fake because the seller is a scammer.

    I get that and got it. That’s not a scenario I’ve run into. But it is important to unbury bad reviews about the recently shipped product, because that’s what I’m likely to receive if I order it. Those reviews are often hidden by Amazon’s default sort order. 

    • #26
  27. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I ignore stars and read the text reviews. I don’t buy a product without text reviews, as stars are easy to fake.

    Sometimes, sellers change an item completely to benefit from all the good reviews. That’s why you will see reviews for a completely different product.

    I had a product that I was planning on giving a 5 star review (cheap Android tablet) but the vendor sent me a letter offering to pay me for a 5-star review. No way I am doing that.

    That would tempt me to post a review denouncing the attempt to buy my praise.

    • #27
  28. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Django (View Comment):

    I don’t normally do reviews but made an exception in one case. I said nothing negative at all. I described my experience with model 1.0 that I had used for years. Described the modifications of 2.0 that I thought were worthwhile. Listed what I thought were the limitations of the product. Those had nothing to do with overall quality, but were inherent in the design. Said I was happy with the purchase.

    I got an e-mail saying that 25 people thought the review was helpful. In my spam folder about two weeks later was an e-mail from the company asking me to reconsider my rating and upgrade it to five stars because my review would “hurt the company”. Do they also expect a participation trophy?

    Some businesses have actually sued reviewers for bad reviews.  Don’t know how they turned out . . .

    • #28
  29. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Stad (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    I don’t normally do reviews but made an exception in one case. I said nothing negative at all. I described my experience with model 1.0 that I had used for years. Described the modifications of 2.0 that I thought were worthwhile. Listed what I thought were the limitations of the product. Those had nothing to do with overall quality, but were inherent in the design. Said I was happy with the purchase.

    I got an e-mail saying that 25 people thought the review was helpful. In my spam folder about two weeks later was an e-mail from the company asking me to reconsider my rating and upgrade it to five stars because my review would “hurt the company”. Do they also expect a participation trophy?

    Some businesses have actually sued reviewers for bad reviews. Don’t know how they turned out . . .

    Some reviewers lie with malice aforethought

     

    • #29
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