The Sneaky Way Online Reviews Fool Even the Smartest Shoppers

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Whenever we're getting ready to make an online purchase, whether it's a new hairbrush on Amazon or a hotel room for a weekend getaway, we check out those online reviews. In fact, when was the last time you purchased something without seeing what other people said about it?

That's what I thought.

But a new study reveals that all those online reviews aren't even very good indicators of a product's quality, and can actually end up clouding our judgment, misleading us into purchasing worse products.

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To come to this conclusion, researchers from Stanford University, Indiana University Bloomington, and the University of California, Los Angeles, examined real products available on Amazon, and discovered no relationship between the number of reviews a product had and its average rating.

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This means that the amount of reviews a product has isn't a "reliable indicator of a product's quality," ScienceDaily reported.

Naturally, the researchers then wanted to look at people's behavior when using online reviews. So they had 132 adults look at various phone cases, two at a time, along with the average user rating and how many reviews each phone case had. Participants mainly chose the case that had more reviews, even when both presented phone cases had low ratings -- and even though more reviews contributing to a low rating means it is statistically more likely to be the worse one.

They did this for a second experiment and received similar results.

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The researchers think this is because people translate the number of reviews into popularity, despite the low ratings staring back at them from a screen. 

"Our data suggest that retailers might need to rethink how reviews are presented and consumers might need to do more to educate themselves about how to use reviews to guide their choices," Derek Powell, the study's lead author, said. 

Maybe it's time to take those online reviews with a grain of salt. 

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