I had a recent discussion with my wife about product reviews. She was returning a product because what arrived did not match the description. And this was not the first time such a thing had happened. So I asked her if she read the reviews first.

“It has 4.7 stars and something like 5,000 reviews.”

So I suggested, “You should add your review and let people know that it doesn’t match the description.”

But then she expressed another concern when it comes to reviews. Anyone can look at her review profile and compile a list of everything she has bought.

Yeah. That’s certainly a privacy concern. Like all other parts of our digital lives.

But just as concerning is the fact that over 5,000 people reviewed this product and the vast majority of them made no mention of the seriously misleading product description. The product had thousands of thoughtless, pointless reviews and ratings.


One problem is that every vendor of just about anything tends to hound customers for reviews. “Hey, you bought our toilet paper! Thanks! Please leave us a review!” And then a few days later, same message. And a few days after that, a more urgent message. Then extreme guilt-laden messages. Eventually, a lot of people leave a review just to shut them up. And most reluctant reviewers tend toward 5 or 1. It worked or it didn’t. Or they’re upset about the badgering and their review has nothing to do with the actual product.

The next problem is the carrot. Leave a review in exchange for a free product or significant discount. The problem with this is a “good review” is implied by this exchange. They expect 5 stars, not an honest review. It’s essentially a paid review. Try as they may, stores like Amazon and sites like Trust Pilot have been unable to completely wipe out this practice.

The way the nag is phrased also feeds into this problem. Vendors don’t simply ask for a review. They suggest a 5-star reveiw. In many cases, their wording essentially demands it. In fact, I know vendors that will chase down reviewers that left less than 5 stars and badger them into changing it.

So customers all over the place are guilted, prodded, bribed and badgered into giving good reviews. 5-star reviews.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are the 1-star reviewers. Nothing motivates a review like a product that does not work as advertised or breaks much sooner than expected. But the 1-star reviews are littered with bad shoppers who did not understand what they were buying. Many of them go something like this: “The cat I purchased from you doesn’t bark! What a terrible product!”

What does this mean for shoppers? We can’t simply look at the average rating. We have to do a deep dive to see what the reviews mean. The 5-star reviews are crowded with paid reviews and the 1-star reviews are riddled with incompetence. So we have to weed through the at the 4-star reviews to see what’s good about the product and what it’s missing for a 5-star review. Then look at the 2-star ratings to see what was actually wrong with the product — people who gave it an honest rating, but were not satisfied.

The end result is that finding a good product is a lot of work for shoppers, and the post-purchase rigmarole is a great annoyance for customers.

We have review fatigue. At least I certainly do. I rarely leave reviews anymore and many people I know feel similarly about it. And this is coming from a dude who publishes fantasy novels and desperately wishes people would leave fantastic reviews about his books (see what I did there?).