Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The paradox of Amazon's negative reviews: Best material, lowest ratings

Sometimes I despair of mere humanity.

Take Amazon reviews, for example.

I write a fair number of 'em, enough to qualify as a "Vine" candidate. A lot of my reviews are quite positive, but I think some of my most valuable reviews are the negative ones. Curiously, my positive reviews are always well rated, but my negative reviews often receive few and mixed reader ratings.

Of course some of this is fraud -- employees pretending to be customers. I don't think that's all of it though. Humans love to acquire, and they want their acquisitive impulses to be reinforced. A negative review is a buzz kill.

It's not just me. Consider the Hasbro Nerf N-Strike Longshot CS-6. This nerf weapon has a 4+ star review, with lots of keen reviews. It is astonishingly cool looking, and my son yearned for it. He earned it through accomplishing a challenging and important task; it came while I was away on a (infrequent) business trip.

Within a minute of walking in the door I was handed the gun and asked to fix it. The front gun component wouldn't fire its foam dart.

It took a bit of playing around, but I eventually figured out the plastic handgrip interlock was defective. It wasn't a random manufacturing error, the mold was obviously incorrect. With a bit of work with a Dremel and a razor I was able to trim the plastic tabs and allow the grip to lock. At that point the firing tab engaged and my son was quietly pleased.

He was not impressed mind you. He expected that I'd fix it.

Ok, I'm getting to the point.

I returned to Amazon to warn of this manufacturing problem, and this time I read the negative reviews. Most of them mentioned that the pistol grip didn't mount, and most of them were rated "unhelpful" -- if they were rated at all.

The negative reviews have been warning for months of a significant manufacturing error -- one that I'm certain Hasbro knows about even as they continue to sell the unfixed toy. Despite their fundamental value they go unread.

Remember Cassandra? Do you remember that nobody liked her predictions of doom? Most people don't remember she was right.

There's a reason that story resonates.

It's not just the rest of humanity. Even I didn't read the negative reviews -- though I usually do. In my defense, I didn't read any of the reviews. It looks cool, my son wanted it, it was a reward for a task completed, it doesn't cost much -- I didn't do a lot of research.


Happily, in this case, there is a candle you can light. The next time you buy something from Amazon; read the negative reviews. Reward those that describe negative experiences and concrete issues. It's not hard to filter out the nonsensical rants. Strike a blow for Reason!

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