The Scary Truth About Online Reviews: Negative Trumps Positive in Readers' Minds

Most reviews don't reflect reality. Here's why we believe them anyway.

A data sample from found that less than 5 percent of reviews of a verified purchase were rated one star, while 59 percent had five stars. So why do people seem to pay more attention to the negative reviews?

According to the New York Times, a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 82 percent of American adults say they sometimes or always read online reviews when looking to make purchases. And more than two-thirds of those who regularly read reviews believe they’re “generally accurate.”

And that especially applies to negative reviews. In fact, marketing data shows that “negative reviews in particular dramatically influence our buying behaviors,” the Times reports.

Yelp explains how to handle negative restaurant reviews.

The apparent reason: Since positive reviews greatly outnumber the negative reviews, we tend to pay more attention to the relatively scarce naysayers. “The infrequent nature of negative reviews may help to distinguish them from other reviews,” Dr. Duncan Simester, a marketing professor at M.I.T., told the Times.

Some people may be suspicious of an abundance of five-star reviews, the article also states, due to media reports claiming these positive reviews could be fake.

But a 2016 study found that online reviews don’t necessarily jibe with reality. The study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, “looked at whether online reviews reflected objective quality as rated by Consumer Reports” and found “very little correlation.”

Video: How 786 Degrees Earned Almost 800 Positive Yelp Reviews

Of course, that’s because reviewers aren’t being objective—they’re stating their personal opinions and reflecting on their own experiences with the product or service. Several factors play into those experiences, research finds, including whether they're traveling with significant others, friends or family or traveling alone or for business. The latter group tend to leave the most negative reviews.

Moreover, reviewers aren’t your average consumers, according to the Times. They are “more likely to buy things in unusual sizes, make returns, be married, have more children, be younger and less wealthy, and have graduate degrees than the average consumer,” according to Simester. They buy four times more products and are 50 percent more likely to shop sales.

“Very few people write reviews,” Simester told the Times. “It’s about 1.5 percent or 15 people out of 1,000. Should we be relying on these people if we’re part of the other 985?”

Why pizzerias can't afford to ignore online reviews.


Edit Module

Tell us what you think at or email.

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

7 Crazy Ways to Deliver Pizza

When traditional delivery isn't enough, here are a few wacky ways pizza is being delivered around the world.

Glass Nickel Pizza Plans Rebuild after Explosion

A natural gas explosion leveled his pizzeria. Now the owner of Glass Nickel Pizza in Sun Prairie makes plans for the long recovery.

Buddy's Pizza Selling Original Location

Inventor of Detroit-style pizza is selling original location to raise capital for national expansion.

Where to Visit a Pizza Farm

Pizza farms are growing across the Midwest as farmers and consumers continue to embrace the farm-to-table movement.

Decline of Hotel Room Service Offers Opportunity for Pizzerias

As hotels close their room-service restaurants, pizzerias can market directly to hotel guests and tourists.

Regional Pizza Styles Continue to Grow in Popularity

As consumers continue to experiment with flavors, pizzerias offer styles of pizza beyond the local favorite.

John Schnatter Resigns from Papa John's Board of Directors

Papa John's company founder submits resignation to board after apologizing for racial slur made during a May conference call.

North American Pizza & Culinary Academy Opens in Chicagoland

Cooking school is the second in the United States offering accreditation as part of the esteemed Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Venice, Italy.

Online Freestyle Pizza Tossing Battles Return July 16 to 22

How to participate in the pizza tossing competition that's open to everyone.

Why Straws are Disappearing at Restaurants

Pizzerias across the nation join the movement to eliminate plastic straw waste.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags