Study: Too much value put in peer ratings

Posted at 2:08 PM, Apr 28, 2016

Word of mouth can be great for recommendations, but, when it comes to buying online, don't believe every review you read.

A new University of Colorado Boulder study, just published in the Journal of Consumer Research, says there is a major disconnect between how useful online ratings are and the weight users give them when judging quality.

Researchers looked at ratings for 1,272 products in 120 categories. The items included car seats, bike helmets, sunblock and smoke alarms.

The data found almost no correlation between the average user rating and the rating the product got on an objective test.

The likelihood a product with a high user rating performed better than one with a lower user rating was 57 percent. A correlation of 50 percent is considered "random."

To avoid being fooled, the study authors recommend checking how many people reviewed the product. Smaller sample sizes likely mean the reviews are less trustworthy, because of differing opinions.

Researchers also found shoppers give higher ratings to more expensive products or popular brand names, by default, meaning good marketing can throw off online reviews.