How to Read the Reviews So You Know Exactly What You're Buying Online

We never commit to an online purchase without looking at the reviews first.

A glance at reviews can reveal so much more than just star ratings ever could. If you're not sure what you can learn about a product by reading the reviews, here's a guide to making the most of them so you know exactly what you're buying every time.

Start With the Star Rating

If you're in a hurry and you only have time to check out one thing, look at the star rating of the product you're looking to buy. The more stars, the better, so as a rule of thumb, avoid products with one or two-star ratings, and put more trust into products that have four or five-star ratings. If it's a three-star rating, use your judgment. Are you going to save a few bucks, so you're willing to pay a little on a so-so product? Or are you spending a lot of money and looking to invest in the best of the best? The basic star rating can help you quickly decide what to spend on, and what to avoid.

Shutterstock: Illustration of hand giving a product a 5-star review

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Note the Number of Overall Reviews

The more reviews a product has, the more you can trust that the reviews are legitimate and actually indicate the product's quality. If something has thousands of reviews, not only does that make it almost impossible for all of the reviews to be faked, but it also means that it's a frequently purchased and likely dependable product. If something only has one or two reviews, the product may be new or mostly untested, and the small sample size likely won't be representative of the pool of people who actually try it. Whether it's a positive or negative review, it's hard to know whether to believe it when there's no other info to back it up.


Read the 5-Star Reviews Thoughtfully

When the reviews on a product are mixed, it's a good idea to actually look at the context of them and find out whether they seem like the real deal. While the majority of the time overwhelmingly positive reviews are from real people, other times they'll be plants from people who work for the brand or otherwise have a stake in the success of the product. Be wary of reviews that are too descriptive and read like a sales pitch, because these might not be authentic. Pay extra attention when the review is a direct response to a negative review, as this is a common sales tactic. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell between the two, but if you use your judgment, it'll usually steer you in the right direction.

Shutterstock: Woman looking at laptop with coffee in one hand and credit card in the other shopping online

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Review the Negative Reviews, Too

Even when the vast majority of people love a product, it can be worth looking at the negative reviews for extra insight. When someone is just disgruntled and looking to complain and nitpick about anything they can find, it's usually pretty obvious. Other times, the minority of negative reviews can be indicative of issues you would have never thought about, and that most people wouldn't run into, but would be a problem for you. Sometimes, a single negative review can help you understand exactly why an otherwise beloved product won't be right for you.


Look for Repeat Praise or Complaints

If you're questioning the honesty of any of the reviews you're reading, be on the lookout for any points—positive or negative—that come up repeatedly in different reviews. If all of the five-star reviews rave about a certain feature and how great it is, chances are that you can trust it. Similarly, if a lot of different people keep bringing up something about the product that they don'like, it's safe to assume that's authentic, too. If you spot a claim that seems too good to be true (or the opposite) it helps to find another review that verifies it.


Look for Comparisons to Other Products

Sometimes, the most helpful way to really understand what a product is or how it works is a point of comparison. Good reviews will often compare or contrast the product being reviewed to another similar and better-known product to give readers a point of reference. Not only will this give you a better idea of what you're buying, but it shows that the reviewer is knowledgeable about that category of products. Plus, if they're willing to bring up another brand's products, they're probably not a salesperson for the product they're reviewing.


Skim for the Features That Matter to You

When shopping online, it's crucial to remember that this is a purchase for you, and that not every positive or negative aspect of what you're buying will necessarily matter to you. When you're looking through the reviews, hone in on the ones that make you feel like this is a must-buy for you, or ones that seem like immediate red flags, and make your decision from there.

Shutterstock: Woman online shopping with her laptop computer screen in view

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Trying to be a little more thoughtful when you buy online? Click HERE for a list of struggles you've experienced if you're an impulsive online shopper.