It’s Not Always Written In The Stars

HomeWorld Business has learned that Walmart recently told some vendors it might drop items from its e-commerce platform that don’t have at least a four-star rating.

That would be another nod to four-star achievement following the launch in 2018 of the Amazon 4-Star physical store concept spotlighting highly rated products.

Vulnerable Marketplace

While a four-star rating might seem clear to e-commerce shoppers, things are murkier under the stars for suppliers and retailers.

Make no mistake: Online ratings of four stars and better should be the goal of every product, regardless of price level. Empowering e-commerce shoppers to publicly rate purchases— and the growing importance of such ratings in listings— seemed like a natural, transparent progression of digital marketing. It also exposed the vulnerabilities of a marketplace open to paid and otherwise planted reviews.

It’s been four years since HomeWorld Business exposed the mounting problem of fake online reviews in its 2015 Housewares Show edition cover story. Half of online reviews could still be illegitimate, some estimate.

If a four-star rating is to become an e-commerce minimum, can anyone be certain a product has reached that status without a lift from compensated influencers? We’ve also heard stories of consumers receiving free, unsolicited items in exchange for high ratings.

Meanwhile, established items sitting just shy of four stars could be endangered. A solid seller stuck on 3.7 stars after hundreds of ratings, for example, would need a dramatic (and unlikely) influx of higher ratings to move to four stars without a complete reset of the product.

Negative Competition

Also, some speculate ratings of many popular items skew lower because people are more likely to submit negative reviews when dissastified than positive reviews when satisfied. The lingering problem of competitors dumping in negative reviews also can’t be negated.

All of this has some wondering if consumers will begin to question or devalue ratings as they oversaturate the digital marketplace.

Housewares suppliers remain suspicious of online ratings, even as the evolution of digital retailing encourages them to do what they can to get higher marks.

Measures & Insights

While online ratings seem like a clear-cut, democratic method for selecting products, listing decisions still need to take into account a full menu of quantitative and qualitative measures and insights.

A four-star mandate might be intended as a fair and transparent way to promote user-authenticated quality and value. Retailers must exercise caution and discretion, however, when it comes to raising the rating threshold for products to make the e-commerce cut.

If it causes more companies to game the system to reach that rating, or to keep competitive products from reaching it, things will only get murkier.