Why Amazon’s review system stinks

opinion-iconI used to do a lot of reviews on Amazon. I think genuine customer reviews are a great way to gauge how good a product is. Of course it’s probably best not to take too much notice when there are only two or three reviews for a product, but if a product has 20+ reviews you’re starting to get a decent cross-section of opinion and if the review count is 50+ you really do have something to go on.

I still do the occasional review when I feel like it but I’ve seriously curtailed that practice for two reasons, one of which is Amazon’s fault and one of which isn’t.

Let’s deal with the one that isn’t. It’s the unsurprising fact that a lot of people are stupid. This is hardly a revelation but the way it applies to Amazon reviews is that people don’t understand the concept of a review. A lot of people will flag a review as helpful if they agree with it and flag it as unhelpful if they don’t. Such people have entirely missed the point of a review.

A good review – detailed, accurate and informative – is good whether or not one agrees with it and a bad review – one liners such as “great product” – is bad even if the product is indeed great because it offers no explanation as to why the reviewer thinks this.

If a review accurately reflects the reviewer’s experiences and any praise or criticism is backed up with facts, rather than emotion, the review is helpful even if one disagrees with it. Because I have a three digit IQ I recognise this and such a review would get a helpful vote from me. “Great product” wouldn’t because I haven’t been told why it’s so great.

Maybe there’s some psychology at work here. Nobody likes to think they’ve wasted their money so maybe they try to validate their purchase by flagging all the praise as helpful and criticisms as unhelpful. But an intelligent reader should be able to rise above that.

That alone would not stop me writing reviews on Amazon because there will always be stupid people and one just has to accept it.

The mistake that Amazon made – and the one that curtails my own reviewing – is the ‘No’ button attached to the ‘Was this review helpful to you?’ question, which effectively allows negative voting. Unfortunately this leads to tactical voting. Some sad people will flag a review as unhelpful just to ensure their own review for the same product or their own position in Amazon’s top 10,000 reviewers list is enhanced. Yes, we do have to wonder how empty a person’s life is to consider that so important but it does go on.

I’ve seen many perfectly good reviews (not just my own) voted down for no good reason. Someone can have taken time and effort to write a great review only to find it has been voted down by some jealous moron whose raison d’être seems to be to climb up the reviewers’ list. It happens more than you might think.

Amazon could stop this in an instant but for reasons best known to themselves they don’t. For sure, the voting system could still be abused if there was only the choice between a positive vote or nothing. Fake likes are nothing new. But it would be seriously curtailed if the negative voting option was removed. Furthermore, I believe it would make the reviews of a product more representative.

I hear Facebook plans to add negative voting to posts on there. I can only see that ending in tears and the world’s biggest social network will become distinctly antisocial.

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