How One Review Can Doom a Product Forever

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There you are, clicking around on your favorite online marketplace, looking for just the item that will help you solve that problem or do that thing. You find just the product that will help with what you need — but you hesitate. The customer rating is bad, and not only that, but it's got hardly any reviews at all. The product sounds perfect on its face, but you suspect you need to keep looking.

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This scenario can be a nightmare for sellers, and it's the subject of a new study just published by the University of Florida. More specifically, it's all about the power of a product's initial review, and how the first posted comment can sway nearly every shopper who comes after. Because consumer ratings tend to average out a user-generated score, we tend to take it for granted that one site can give us an accurate read on how a product performs. But if a poor initial rating stops other buyers from trying and reviewing that item, low engagement distorts discussion of how well the product actually works. Sales were found to suffer up to three years after the fact.

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Human psychology plays deeply into how we engage with product reviews, with sometimes counterintuitive results. An egregiously bad review might make us sympathize with a manufacturer, rather than avoid the product; a cranky restaurant write-up might not be about the food and service at all, but something as unrelated as the weather.

Overall, we need to be conscientious about how we engage with user-generated feedback — and if a national product has a suspiciously poor rating on one site, check around on others to see if the experience tracks. You might otherwise miss out on a good buy thanks to a few early trendsetters.

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