Decoding Online Reviews: Truth Versus Hype

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Earlier this month, a popular streaming service made sweeping changes to its ratings system — it went from the five-star rating system to a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. Predictably, this has resulted in a fair of vituperative backlash from viewers. But, more importantly, this has triggered a whole new debate about online feedback that actually polarizes opinions.


Is the new binary system polarizing? Can it accurately indicate what viewer feedback truly symbolizes? Can every response in metrics be boiled down to a simple "yes' or "no'?

It's quite possible that the star rating wasn't perfect, but the fallout illustrates the fact that people miss that one elusive element — nuance.

Let's face it. Reviews help you weed out bad movies, tell you where to dine and where to go on vacation. They are becoming increasingly relevant to both consumers and businesses.

Previously, personal recommendations and "word of mouth' were all it took to influence the next person, but the cacophony of digitization has changed all that. Now, an increasing number of businesses are taking some of their crucial decisions based on online reviews.

Does One Size Fit All?

Thumbs up and down, the "Like' button, smiley face, emoji, hearts — there are enough means for users to validate or disapprove something on the internet.

While many app-based transport services use a star-rating system, can the same be said for a movie or a product? Surely, people would rate a cab ride and a movie or a meal at a restaurant very differently. It doesn't make sense that ratings for more qualitative things have to operate within the same binary. Hence, it's hard to conclude whether online ratings are a true reflection of quality.

Star Ratings

It can capture and encapsulate user experiences as worst, bad, okay, good and excellent. It's not merely euphoria or instant gratification that drives people to give lot of five-star ratings. It also leads to a choice paralysis. The more options you have, the more mental effort you need to put in to give a rating.

The Thumbs Up/Down System

It requires you to make a snap judgment, based on a gut feeling, and move on. Switching to a binary seems less granular and, at the end of the day, it's about just getting more people to rate it.

The Like Button

The Like button isn't just a digital pat on the back, it's an ambiguous up-vote that draws more eyeballs for a piece of content. While the Like button was meant to make our lives easier, it has had a lot of unintended consequences. It obviated the need for users to write comments indicating what they liked.


Why is there always a need to quantify everything? Or simplify is it down to one mouse click? Why restrict an opinion on the web to a parameter of stars? Sometimes, simple words are your best recourse. It may not be as appealing as some of the other parameters, but it still is mighty effective.

Are Online Ratings Reliable?

There are many reasons why consumer ratings may not be an objective indicator of quality. Online reviews are predicated on a biased subset of people who have purchased the product. Many groups also tend to manipulate average ratings to their favor. It's a given that reviews have the potential to make or break your online business because it's people that all businesses cater to. Fake reviews, whether good or bad, can be a difficult battle for the retailer. Every review must be taken with a grain of salt. You cannot afford to ignore anything if it has the potential to harm you. If it does, it's best to take corrective measures. The key is to embrace their potential to improve your business.

Turning Rants into Constructive Criticism

When you put yourself on the internet, some negativity is inevitable, especially when you work hard to create a positive sentiment around your brand. It does not matter how efficient or transparent you are, some people just won't like you and you will get some flak for the things that went wrong, albeit inadvertently. However, while negative feedback can be unfair, it's the only way to re-evaluate and re-orient your brand and dilute its impact. Finding a way to make them work in your favor is the way forward. Millennials trust user-generated content more than what they hear from their friends or family, so web reviews are at the crossroads of social media and transactions. It won't matter what you say about yourself or what you sell, most consumers will care more about what your customers say about you.

Impact On Business Prospects

Having a number of positive reviews increases your chances of convincing consumers to pay more for your products and services. Some studies suggest that customers are likely to shell out 31per cent extra on products or services that have garnered excellent reviews, which obviously results in increased business revenues. About 84 per cent customers value reviews on the internet just as much as the word of mouth. For every star earned by a business, the likelihood of its revenues increasing goes up by five-nine per cent. By the same token, all it takes is one negative review to drive nearly 22 per cent of customers away. Get three negative reviews, and this figure goes up to 59 per cent. One negative review can cost a business nearly 30 customers on an average. Clearly, the writing is on the wall – online reviews have serious ramifications on your business and you need to start taking them seriously, before it becomes too late.

Thus, every transaction or relationship can be graded or rated, and people consider this ability as essential to their rights as empowered consumers. In a society where social media metrics entail a jarring sense of hyper-reality, the web is a dichotomy between personal and non-personal experiences. Like them or hate them, but you can't ignore online reviews. It is through reviews that consumers understand and relate to the message of your brand.