Star ratings on Amazon aren't the most reliable way to judge a product, but they do provide a clear visual indication of how a product is perceived. At least that was the case until a recent change by Amazon. Rather than showing how many stars an item has by actually showing multiple stars, the retailer now has a single star with a number next to it.
Amazon still provides the same general information as before. The number next to the star is based on a weight average. The layout also shows the percentage of reviews of 4+ stars, which is handy. But at a glance, the new system is not as digestible.
When I browse through a list of products, my eye recognizes how many stars are next to them. I think we've all been conditioned to notice graphics quickly. By making a 3-star product and a 5-star product show the same number of stars, Amazon has made it more difficult to pick things at a glance.
Is this the end of the world? No, of course not. I do think it makes it easier to sneak in a poorly rated product though.
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Take a look at the search results above for "keyboard." In the two images I've taken, there are keyboards with 3.4, 4.0, 4.7, 4.5, 4.3, and 4.6 stars, but they all look the same at a glance. Obviously, the number values are still there, but I think most eyes would skip right past something with only 3.4 stars. With the new setup, however, you spend more time on each item, even if an item is poorly rated.
I can't speak about Amazon's motives, but it seems the company is looking to prioritize the banners it adds to products rather than reviews. This gives Amazon more of a say in where your eyes go. The second image above has two best sellers and an overall pick! As much as that doesn't make sense, your eyes still go to the text featured above the product photo.
With deprioritized star ratings, Amazon can now put a banner on an item and get more people to click on it.
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