Last year Amazon made it easier for shoppers to leave a star rating by no longer requiring a written review. As a result, popular products on the shopping site are now getting hundreds of ratings a day, while also increasing their overall star rating.
In September last year, Amazon expanded product reviews by allowing shoppers to leave a star rating without a written review, a previously required field. Now it takes a single click to post a star rating. Thus, the overall star rating includes feedback from customers who rated the product as well as the traditional reviews.
For example, the Apple AirPods currently have more than 29,000 customer ratings, of which only 9,000 are traditional reviews with a written text review. Since mid-December, the item is adding more than 600 ratings a day. Increased sales during the holidays have contributed to this, but the new rating system has as well - for the five months leading up to September, the item received, on average, only 20 new reviews a day.
The star rating has also increased from 4.3 to 4.6 out of 5. The new rating system was meant to encourage shoppers to share their opinion about the product, even if they don’t want to write a review. Customers with a negative shopping experience are more likely to leave a review, but thanks to the more straightforward rating system, those happy with their purchase are now more likely to do so too.
Other products are benefiting, too - most best-sellers since September have drastically increased the number of ratings as well as the average star rating.
However, the new rating system has drawbacks. Ratings without a written review lack context the brand and other shoppers could use to understand the star rating. A three-star or, worse, a one-star rating without a note carries no feedback. For shoppers who like to read reviews to make better buying decisions, and for brands who analyze reviews to improve their products, those ratings are worthless.
The new system doesn’t address dwindling trust in reviews either, which has been eroded by fake reviews over the years. Shoppers and external tools have learned to analyze the text of a review to decide if it’s not genuine. With star ratings replacing reviews this is no longer possible.
The result of the new rating system is more products with more ratings with a higher star rating than before. The underlying idea must be that the more ratings, the more representative the star rating will be of the positive and negative experiences, not unlike the star rating each Uber or Lyft taxi driver has. Since most shoppers do not read reviews and rely on Amazon to suggest the best item, only verifying that suggestion by glancing at the star rating, this is an improvement. Nonetheless, it is eroding the value written reviews had brought, and not meaningfully addressing fake reviews.