“This product sucks. Took ten day to arrive. DO NOT BUY.”
That’s all actual language from reviews on products I’ve recently purchased on Amazon. These particular products actually all had overwhelmingly good reviews; I had to dig a bit to find the bad ones, but choosing to which product to buy online isn’t always so easy.
When faced with a few product options, none of which have clearly better reviews, which one do you choose?
My trick is that, if I can’t find a choice I like with roundly great reviews, I always look for products with polarized reviews. That is to say, I would much rather see a bunch of one-star reviews than a bunch of three-star reviews.
I would much rather see a review distribution like this:
Than one like this:
It seems counter-intuitive to prefer the product with *more* crappy reviews. So why do it?
My experience has been that products with a bunch of one-star reviews fall into one of three categories:
1. Poor quality control. Most products ship just fine, so most reviews are just fine. A few people get totally defective versions that don’t work at all and leave bad reviews. I’ve never worried much about this scenario, since I’m not buying much lifesaving equipment and I’m confident I can get an exchange.
2. Polarizing qualities. Some people love the thing. Some people hate it. For much of what I buy online – books and video games – I enjoy things that are bold enough to really piss some people off. In this case, a few one-star reviews might even be a good thing.
3. Overreacting reviewers. The product wasn’t perfect and the recipient was bored, angry, or drunk enough to write a misspelled, insulting, ALL CAPS review of why the product “blows.” I’ve always felt I could pretty safely ignore these.
Three-star reviews, on the other hand, describe a totally different scenario. These reviews indicate a product that isn’t polarizing, it’s just meh. And that isn’t an overreaction. These reviewers carefully thought through the balancing factors, both good and bad. They arrive at the conclusion that, while this product isn’t TEH WERST EVER, it’s lacking in some key areas.
So, one-star reviews are safe to ignore, they rarely indicate a major problem with a product. To the contrary, middling reviews indicate that serious, thoughtful reviewers were disappointed with the product. Three-star reviews mean it’s better to keep searching.