The five-star review trap (Read this before using star ratings for your business)

The five-star review trap

When a five-star consumer rating system for products and services was adopted by major online businesses including Amazon, Yelp and Trip Advisor, the practice soon became widely used. But other businesses such as Netflix ditched star rating after discovering some downsides. Here are some things to consider before you adopt a star rating system in your own online business:

  • Troublemakers love it. Unfortunately, most satisfied users will not bother to rate your product or service, while dissatisfied customers tend to be highly motivated. That gives the complainers too much power. It’s especially risky if your product or service is new. A few low ratings from a disgruntled group can kill a fledgling offering before it even gets off the ground.
  • Competitors love it. Even great ratings can work against you. Products rated with five stars make it easy for your competitors to know what to copy and what to avoid. For example, if an Amazon reseller’s product gets consistent five-star ratings, Amazon sometimes starts selling it directly, often to the chagrin of the reseller who instantly finds their sales being taken over by the online retailing giant.
  • Fixed issues are forgotten. If dissatisfied customers identify a problem with a product or service through negative one-star reviews, even if you fix the problem the damage will be done. Future sales are likely to suffer because of poor historic ratings, despite the fact that you made improvements. And if you erase the old ratings, it may look like you are being dishonest by tampering with the rating system.
  • Solid sellers look unpopular. If you introduce star ratings, you may have hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers who don’t bother to review the product or service. This can give the perception that no one buys it or it’s no good — and perception can soon become reality.

Just because the five-star rating system does not work well in many cases, positive customer feedback is still a great marketing tool. Consider using other formats to collect and showcase sincere customer feedback to demonstrate the goodwill supporting your business.