Study: People prefer buying products with high number of reviews, despite poor ratings

WASHINGTON — It seems that quantity may play a bigger role than quality when it comes to how we perceive product reviews. A new study finds that people are more likely to buy items that have the largest number of reviews on a store’s website, even if it means they’re getting a more poorly rated product.

Researchers at Indiana University and UCLA examined the relationship between the number of reviews an online product has and its average rating, finding that there was no correlation between the two.

Online shopping with credit card
It seems that quantity may play a bigger role than quality when it comes to how we perceive online product reviews.

This result led them to explore how product reviews impacted purchasing decisions, with an initial online experiment involving 132 adult participants.

Presented with a series of phone cases replete with mock online critiques, participants were asked to evaluate which case in a pair they would be more inclined to purchase. The researchers found that consumers tended to buy the case that had more online reviews — even when both cases had garnered low ratings.

This behavior, they noted, is irrational in that a low-rated product with many critiques is statistically more likely to be of low quality.

“Our research suggests that, in some cases, people might take this information and make systematically bad decisions with it,” says lead researcher Derek Powell in press release from the Association for Psychological Science.

A second experiment conducted with similar protocol had similar findings, leading the researchers to conclude that more ratings was tantamount to higher popularity in the minds of many shoppers.

“By examining a large dataset of reviews from, we were able to build a statistical model of how people should choose products,” explains Powell. “We found that, faced with a choice between two low-scoring products, one with many reviews and one with few, the statistics say we should actually go for the product with few reviews, since there’s more of a chance it’s not really so bad.”

Conventional wisdom doesn’t always play out, however, Powell learned.

“But participants in our studies did just the opposite,” he says. “They went for the more popular product, despite the fact that they should’ve been even more certain it was of low quality.”

As for the study’s real-life implications, Powell argues 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.”

Turns out that even as adults, we may need a helping hand when it comes to shopping for ourselves.

The study’s findings were published last month in the journal Psychological Science.