How to Judge Reviews When Everyone Is Too Nice

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In the age of online shopping, it just doesn't make sense to buy something without a customer rating. When we can't judge a product by seeing it ourselves, we rely on what other people have to say before we commit. That can be a good thing, saving us from lemons or otherwise shoddy items — but we might be playing ourselves, if every online reviewer is satisfied with their purchase.


Researchers at Northwestern University have just published a study on how to really use all that five-star ratings you see on online shopping platforms. They're practically ubiquitous: On Amazon, the average product gets a 4.2 rating out of 5, while almost 9 out of 10 Uber drivers get full marks from their riders. Even Yelp, which helps us sort out good businesses from bad, gives more than half its listings superlative reviews.

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If you really want to know how people respond to something, look at how intense the emotions in their written reviews are. You're probably going to have a fine experience if an online commenter says, "This restaurant is excellent, dinner was flawless." But your night might be truly memorable at a place where someone said, "I love this restaurant, it is absolutely wonderful."


We're always trying to decipher how reviews, rankings, and ratings really work. Sometimes even a bad review can prompt us to spend money. Still, if you only rely on hard data, you could be missing out on everything emotions can reveal about your options.