Illustration: Kagan McLeod

User ratings are highly misleading indicators of a product’s quality, according to a new study catchily entitled “Navigating by the Stars” conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Researchers compared star ratings for 1,272 products on Amazon—including car seats, sunblock and blood pressure monitors—to their Consumer Reports scores (the most widely used indicator of objective quality).

They found user ratings were virtually useless. “The likelihood that an item with a higher user rating performs objectively better than an item with a lower user rating is only 57%,” says study author Bart de Langhe, a correlation which is close to random.

So what are all those gold stars based on? According to the findings, high user ratings are linked to expensive products and reputable brands—not objective quality.

The lesson: If you’re selling your wares online or running a digital marketplace, you’d probably be better off forgoing the “rate this product” section altogether.


Are user ratings really meaningless? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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