The world of online reviews and the quality rating system used by various websites is quite complex and convoluted, to say the least. It is not only about consumers leaving the right feedback describing a particular service and its quality, although this is what the star rating systems and customer review platforms were designed to enable. 

We are all aware of shady marketing practices such as review bombing or artificially pumping up one’s own reviews score. Quite frankly, these predatory activities have already received enough publicity and do not deserve to get any more of it, which is why we won’t devote any more space to them. This article is meant to shine a light on a different, much more interesting phenomenon, one that not too many business owners have caught on to as of right now.

Persuasive Imperfection

What we’re referring to is the undeniable power and influence of the 4.5-star rating. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but research shows that businesses consistently getting 4.5 out of 5 stars tend to perform better than those who manage to get that stellar five-star rating month in, month out. Why is that? After all, shouldn’t the absolute best service be the goal of any business that provides a certain service or sells a product? Isn’t a perfect customer experience something that we all strive to achieve?

Well, yes, that much is true. The persuasive power of 4.5 stars does not mean that customers want to give their money to businesses that are slightly worse than absolute perfection in their field. This phenomenon isn’t the result of the actual quality of a service (or product), but rather the analytical and critical thinking processes that go on in our minds when we browse reviews and compare star ratings in order to help ourselves make a financial decision.

This article will explore the high performance of 4.5 star-rated businesses and explain why consumers seem to be more inclined to trust these ratings. We’ll also have a look at the study that first covered this trend. Hopefully, after reading it, you will have a better understanding of how ratings affect the purchase patterns of consumers, as a lot of this stuff may seem obvious to people who frequently scour review sites in search of things to buy, but often goes unnoticed by business owners.

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Where Is the Data Coming From?

A study conducted by PowerReviews in 2014 has shown that most consumers are actively searching for negative reviews when deciding whether or not to purchase a certain product or service. In fact, as many as 82% of them have admitted that this is their primary mode of operation when it comes to looking up online reviews. You may think that this is because they want to find out whether or not something is wrong with the product/service before investing money in it. While this is, in fact, one of the motivations, there is another, not-so-obvious factor that drives the behavior of seeking out bad reviews.

Customer feedback shows that people perceive the publishing of negative reviews by companies and business owners as a sign of confidence in their own deliverables. In other words, customers believe that businesses who own up to negative responses or opinions of their products have nothing to hide and are much more trustworthy than those with a “stellar-review-only” policy.

The PowerReviews study also showcased many other interesting facts and figures about the behavior of customers with regard to online reviews. Here are just some of the highlights:

  • People are most inclined to look up reviews for electronics (82%), computers (80%), and household appliances (80%),
  • 56% of shoppers prefer to buy on websites that enable reviews, even if they are not inclined to leave such reviews themselves,
  • 86% say that reviews are one of the essential parts of their decision-making process,
  • 42% of consumers reported writing reviews on a regular basis, but only 3-10% of all respondents said that they leave a review after being asked for one.

These statistics certainly prove what we were already quite convinced of: online reviews are one of the most important aspects of any business’s digital marketing strategy. However, you need to be wary of how you conduct it because, as the study showed, you may deter people from leaving reviews if you’re too pesky regarding asking for one!

Where Do 4.5 Stars Come in?

Okay, so most customers look for negative reviews and lower ratings when trying to make up their own minds about buying a product or using a service. What does that have to do with the 4.5-star rating? It’s where the “finding out whether something is wrong with the product/service before spending money” part comes into play. Looking for negative reviews to confirm the legitimacy of a seller is one thing, but if the negatives outweigh the positives and you end up with a negative 2-star or a mediocre 3-star rating, they won’t be of much help to you. Negative reviews can be helpful, but only up to a certain point. Once they start outnumbering the positive remarks, then the seller is just peddling an underwhelming product. They may be doing it honestly, but as evidenced by the number of bad reviews, they’re not worth the consumers’ money.

The Golden Middle

This is why the most beneficial rating range falls somewhere between 4.2 and 4.5 stars. It’s that golden area where reviews are still overwhelmingly positive, but investigative customers wary of their spending will still be able to find negative opinions to prove the trustworthiness of the seller. It may sound a little convoluted, but as we said at the beginning of this article, the entire online review sphere is convoluted!

Resist the Temptation

5-star ratings are tempting, and a lot of entrepreneurs, especially ones who are not social media natives and don’t look into the intricacies of online reviews, still point towards them as the “Holy Grail” of digital marketing. It’s not the right approach. In fact, obtaining those elusive five stars is actually quite easy to achieve in practice, especially if you’re willing to hide the negative customer feedback and highlight the positives. Some business owners even go as far as deleting posts that smear their establishments.

Don’t be one of those people. One of the most important things to take out of this entire article should be that an average organic rating is always better than an artificially designed one, even if it’s slightly lower than what you would hope for. Consumers aren’t stupid. They can sense fakeness from a mile away!

How Does It All Apply to My Business?

Star rating systems are used by all kinds of businesses, but you need to remember that people tend to flock to different kinds of feedback depending on what market they’re currently assessing. A customer looking to buy a refrigerator will typically look for different reviews than people looking for vacation hotels or restaurants for a date night.

Short Is Good for Most Products

When it comes to physical items, like household appliances, laptops, or sports equipment, most people expect brief comments reflecting the quality and main functions of the item. In case of physical items, they tend to prioritize a high star rating with accurate comments. Here’s an example of a review of a physical item that people tend to trust:

“Generic Laptop

5/5 Stars

Durable battery, fast charging, works as advertised, great value for money!”*

Outlining the main features of an item and whether or not it’s worth its price are exactly what will interest people in these kinds of reviews. Lengthy descriptions of great features are worse for two reasons: first of all, people won’t really bother reading all that praise. Secondly, it may sound fishy to them that someone would go through all the trouble just to write an essay about the greatness of a single product.

All in all, if you manufacture items such as household appliances, consumer electronics or sporting gear, you’d do best to highlight reviews with high star ratings and brief descriptions.

Positive Negativity in Detailed Service Reviews

When it comes to services of all kinds, things tend to get a little more complicated. Unlike items, experiences are much more subjective matters, which is why review readers will look for detailed descriptions of the service, whether they’re on the lookout for good restaurants, hotels, or business services. Here, the star rating matters much less than in the case of items. A high-quality review of service with a lower star rating might look something like this:

“Basic luxury hotel in the tropics

3/5 Stars

My experience at this hotel was somewhat disappointing. While the food was great and the reception staff was very helpful, I was not too pleased with the limited offer of the SPA on-site. I was specifically looking forward to getting a hot stone massage, but they didn’t offer it! The pool also could have been warmer, and I feel like the bathrobes were a bit too fuzzy for my taste. I can’t complain about the room — it had comfortable beds and great pressure in the showers.”

It may seem a little over-exaggerated, but you would be surprised to see how many similar reviews end up on sites like or Expedia on a daily basis! Despite a poor star rating, this review has the potential to make a positive impact on this particular vacation property. After all, most people look for good service and comfortable rooms in their hotels. The rating is skewed by the reviewer’s preference for hot stone massages and warm pools, which is (most likely) not reflective of the majority of customers.

The Bottom Line

Having a 4.5-star rating on your business page isn’t a sign of imperfection that needs to be fixed. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! To most customers, it signals that you have nothing to hide and that your business is committed to constantly improving. Star ratings are suggestive of the quality of your service, but you should be wary of the “too good to be true” factor. If something is too picture-perfect, chances are that people will distrust it and choose to take their business elsewhere. Hopefully, this article shed some light on how the rating system operates and why a five-star average rating doesn’t always guarantee increased sales. Schedule a demo with Weave to learn how you can collect more quality reviews for your business. 

*all of the reviews used as examples are fictional