Why A 4-Star Review on Amazon Isn't Bad
I posted a video on social media where I said I reserve 5-star reviews on Amazon for only the best books I read, and that I often gave 4-star reviews when I thought there was something that could be improved.
I got a comment from a young small business owner saying that 4-star reviews hurt owners more than if I didn’t buy his products, and that I could keep my money. I replied that I was a small business owner, too, for over 20 years and that expecting all 5-star reviews isn’t realistic, that 4 stars isn’t bad, and that this attitude leads to stress and anxiety. He then replied that you get less sales with a 4-star rating, that I should just give a 5-star rating, and put my unwanted criticism in the comments of a review.
Whoa! I almost don’t even know where to start. But here we go…
Myth: Anything Less Than 5 Stars Is A Bad Review
This is just not true. How do I know? Well, Amazon launched brick-and-mortar retail stores in 2018. What did they name these stores? The Amazon 4-Star Store. Only products that rank 4 stars or more on Amazon are eligible to be sold in those stores. Do you think Amazon would purposely put “4-Star” in their store’s name if they thought that was a bad rating? Of course not! Ratings of 4 stars or above are considered good to excellent.
On Amazon’s FAQ for their 4-Star Stores, they explained why they didn’t open a “5-Star Store” with:
As with any device or product, there will be a range of customer opinions, but anything that achieves an average of 4 stars or above demonstrates a consistent thumbs up from our customers.
Notice also that Amazon says “average of 4 stars.” Amazon recognizes that there will be a variety of ratings which impacts the average.
I think that ends that discussion. Let’s move on.
The commenter said he should be given a 5-star rating and that he didn’t want the sale if it wouldn’t get him a 5-star rating. He also didn’t want any criticism. Imagine if you went into a brick-and-mortar retail store and a sales associate at the door said, “If you’re not going to give your purchase today a 5-star review, you must leave now and not buy anything.” This is crazy and unprofitable. What is going on here? This sounds like a demand for positive approval from others to protect a fragile ego.
Authors can go down this emotional rabbit hole, too, when they receive a negative review and/or low-star rating. They interpret that as a “bad” review. They don’t see ratings and reviews as feedback, they see them as rewards doled out by buyers. And if the reward isn’t what they expect, or it’s even negative, they feel the buyers are just being mean and hurtful.
But there is a way to avoid these challenges to your self esteem. Don’t publish or sell anything. You need a thick emotional skin to sell anything to the public, especially on Amazon.
Genuine Reviews are Precious, Regardless of Rating
One of the things that shocks many new authors and sellers on Amazon is that most people don’t review their purchases. According to a USA Today article, That review you wrote on Amazon? Priceless, which discussed the Amazon review system, only 5% to 10% of buyers actually review their purchases. I’ve heard other estimates as low as 1% to 2% of purchases get reviewed or rated. So reviews are precious, even those that may not be exactly as high as you want.
5-Star Reviews Don’t Equate with Quality
If it’s any encouragement, as of this original post date, here are the percentages of 5-star reviews that are shown on Amazon for some books you may have heard of:
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 72%
- 1984 by George Orwell 76%
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 82%
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 75%
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway 74%
If these titans of literary and cultural history can’t even get 100 percent 5-star reviews, why do you think your product or self published book should garner 5 stars 100 percent of the time?
The USA Today article mentioned earlier goes on to say that according to research, uniformly good reviews are often not believed by buyers, and that a rating of 4.2 to 4.4 is considered optimal. Yes, average ratings in the 4-star zone are considered optimal.
Five-star reviews have nothing—nothing!—to do with the quality of the offering. It only has to do with the buyer’s personal experience which may be positive or negative.
Lovers and Haters
Personally, I always suspect there’s been some behind the scenes finagling of the reviews if I see all 5-star reviews. As evidenced by the previous discussion, there is little likelihood that 100 percent of people will love your book 100 percent of the time.
This is why I’m not a proponent of book launch teams where authors might be tempted to juice their ratings by encouraging the book launch team to post glowing reviews. Amazon might flag product listings that have extraordinarily high reviews, but low actual and/or verified purchase sales, because you can be sure that Amazon will go to lengths to protect the integrity of their platform and ratings systems.
Some buyers just consistently give negative or low reviews. You cannot stop them from doing so, except in cases where their ratings violate Amazon’s Community Guidelines. Just because it doesn’t meet your expectations for perfect ratings doesn’t mean it violates those guidelines.
Nobody Knows Amazon’s Algorithm Except Amazon
Like the commenter, when Amazon conspiracy theorists and inexperienced online sellers see a low average rating for their offerings, they naively assume that’s the reason for low sales. If only it were that simple! I know enough about how Amazon’s algorithms work to know that I don’t know enough about how Amazon’s algorithms work. (Did you follow me there?)
From my reading about this topic, it appears that Amazon’s average ratings are not simple averages. The average rating is a weighted score that could take into consideration the number of reviews, how recent they are, whether the reviews appear legitimate and follow community guidelines... only Amazon knows how their algorithms work. And like Google, they’re not sharing that algorithm with anyone outside their company and are updating it constantly. Even their sales rankings are updated hourly. Hourly!
Having a High Average Star Rating on Amazon Does Not Mean Amazon Will Display Your Book to Buyers
Even if you have a book or product with a 4 or 5-star average rating, Amazon will not automatically display your book or product to potential buyers unless, of course, you advertise on Amazon or are a legitimate best seller which most self published books are not. There has to be demand for your offering. You should create that demand before a customer even gets to Amazon. You do that by building your author platform.
Competition is Fierce on Amazon
If you have a “me too” book or product that has lots of competition, and the only thing between you and your competitors is a difference in star rating, your sales will get crushed on Amazon because you’re a commodity. You need to be building demand off Amazon for your offering on Amazon.
You Have No Control Over When and How People Buy, Rate, or Review Your Book
Amazon is a 24/7/365, totally automated e-commerce platform. People may buy and review your book at any time. If you’re concerned about influencing the buying process personally, don’t sell online or on Amazon. That type of sales process is usually reserved for higher priced and customized products and services. To be that personally involved for a book sale of less than $20, maybe even $0.99, is completely unprofitable. No, you won’t make it up on a high volume of unit sales, especially if it costs so much in personal attention to make each individual sale.
Do Lower Ratings Really Mean Lower Sales?
Remember that correlation does not equal causation. If you have low sales and low ratings, that does not mean that the low ratings caused low sales. Most self published books and niche products don’t have a high enough volume of sales or ratings to statistically conclude that low ratings were the cause.
As well, there are many factors that impact both the volume of sales and volume of ratings. Any one or many of the following could impact your sales. This list is not exhaustive and there could be other factors, too.
- Book title and subtitle.
- Book description.
- Keywords chosen when publishing to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
- Categories chosen when publishing to KDP.
- Your author platform (fan base) size and quality.
- Volume of competing books similar to yours.
- Low market demand due to narrow niche subject/product or being off-trend.
- Kindle Unlimited reading which reduces number of actual unit sales.
In our ratings-centric culture, it’s tempting to make ratings and reviews the reason for our success or failure, and even a reward. Put ratings and reviews in perspective. They're just feedback.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Heidi Thorne