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Feb 24, 2010 12:25 AM

Amazon ratings- wisdom of the crowd?

Does anybody see any problems with the following methodology:

If you want to buy a measuring cup or some other cookware product, go to Amazon and look through the items they sell in that category, and pick the one item in that category with the highest rating? Assuming the sample size was large enough, wouldn't that method tell you what the best products would be?

Or, do you think a single expert would be a better guide who's able to test a wide range of products in the same category against each other?

I've noticed that there are quite a few equipment recommendations from something like Cook's Illustrated that get really poor ratings on Amazon.

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  1. For all such rating systems, I find that reading the actual contents of the reviews tells you much more than simply looking at the number of stars. You can usually identify the people who know what they're talking about and those who don't. I also think that the reviews giving a product 2 to 4 stars (rather than 1 or 5 stars) are the most informative because they tend to provide a more balanced analysis of the product's strengths and weaknesses.

    5 Replies
    1. re: tanuki soup

      I agree. Also, it depends how many reviews it has. I'd research a 1* item with 1 review, but I'd be drawn to a 5* item with 345 reviews.

      1. re: Soop

        Agreed. That said, I've been shopping on Amazon since Day 1 and the reviews--once they built up a bit over the years--have been a MOST reliable indicator--as long as I read through them all and take into account the fools, the chronically whiny, and those who give a product a bad rating because UPS left it next door. ;-)

      2. re: tanuki soup

        I also like the 1 and 5 star reviews. Particularly with something like recipe books. Most of my favourite recipe books have 1* ratings that say something like, "This book is much too hard. All the recipes required real ingredients, and sometimes required 3 or more steps. Rachel Ray, this author is not."

        The crowd is definitely not wise. But using the reasons that people hate and love stuff will point you towards what you actually want or need.

        1. re: Indirect Heat

          Hmm, I tend to buy any book which say "Rachel Ray, this author is not"

      3. Cook's Illustrated publishes a magazine by that name and also produces the America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country TV programs. They test competing products systematically against each other as well as against criteria such as effectiveness, safety, and price. Think of them as a specialized Consumer's Report for the home kitchen.

        None of the customers who post their opinions on does this kind of systematic comparative testing, and if you try to make comparisons among them, good luck! I may look for the bad reviews of a product to find out if there's any significant problem that Cooks Illustrated didn't pick up, if they tested it at all. If several users have the same complaint, that may be a red flag.

        Otherwise, I'd rely on the professionals. If you go with their recommendations, you may not get absolutely positively the very best in a category, which finally is a judgment call, but at least you shouldn't go wrong. I haven't, anyway.

        You can check out Cooks Illustrated's equipment reports, taste tests, recipes, how-to videos, and all the rest for free during a 2-week trial period, downloading as much content as you want, before deciding whether to pay. It's here:

        2 Replies
        1. re: armagnac

          "None of the customers who post their opinions on does this kind of systematic comparative testing, and if you try to make comparisons among them, good luck! I may look for the bad reviews of a product to find out if there's any significant problem that Cooks Illustrated didn't pick up, if they tested it at all. If several users have the same complaint, that may be a red flag."

          However, I doubt Cooks Illustrated test it in a large number of real-world scenarios with different techniques and recipes etc.

          Cooks illustrated etc are good for straightforward comparisons, but both have their place. Also, sometimes, you might not find the specific item mentioned I suppose.
          But if there enough reviews,

          1. re: Soop

            Real world situations do put different demands on equipment, no doubt. But there are infinite real-world situations, the reviewers don't spell out exactly their own situations, and besides, it's not unknown for equipment to fail because the user didn't know how to use it, or was careless. So I'd say that the results of systematic tests conducted in a testing laboratory are inherently more reliable than you can realistically expect to get from There may be one user who you could really trust to tell you something important that the pros somehow didn't, but how can you find her among all the others?

            For free advice, better to ask and look for it at Chowhound, where at least there's interaction among the posters, including yourself, so you can ask follow-up questions. But when buying something at all expensive, better check what the professional testers have to say.

        2. Amazon reviews are helpful, but always keep a few things in mind. reviewers often post their very first impressions which may change significantly over time. reviewers often have no other similar product experience to compare it to. reviewers often give items as gifts, so their impression and that of the end user, may turn out dramatically different. be careful of some detailed all positive reviews who may be a business affiliate of that product.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Joe Berger

            I agree with those who say you must actually read the reviews. I just purchased a book called the Legume Bible (or possibly the Bean Bible, not in hand at the moment) after checking it out of the library. One reviewer who gave it a low star rating explaing it was because the book was not vegan or vegetarian!!

            1. re: kleine mocha

              Agree. Obviously, it becomes very difficult to read all the reviews when a product has 30+ reviews. So it is good practice to read some 5 star reviews with high rating and some 1-2 star reviews with low rating. In fact, some time a 3-4 star is most balanced.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                kleine mocha - that is so funny! I have the same book (actually bought it from the library for $1) and I saw that same review. You really do have to read the reviews.

          2. I tend to rely on Amazon a bit more with kitchen equipment that is electric as Cook's Illustrated IMO can't keep up with all the models, brands etc. and give them a long enough test to see how durable they are. But for roasting pans, knives, cookware etc. I think they do a good job of testing.

            With Amazon I also feel there is a downward bias as people with problems will usually write in to warn people rather than people with good experiences singing the praise of an object.

            There is also very little way with Amazon to ensure the reviewers are using the items correctly. Buying cutting boards is really hard based upon Amazon reviews. I would almost bet that many are sending them through the dishwasher.

            But then again, Cook's Illustrated knocks Epicurean cutting boards because they 'clack' too much. Seriously? Does this affect the cutting?

            Anyhow my dog loves the Epicurean 'clack' because she knows when I might be cutting up some food that just may fall onto the floor.

            1. I sometimes wonder if CI checks/can check "durability". My example is the "All-Clad Slow Cooker" . CI reviewed it very highly, but many Amazon reviewers reported troubles and some of them are shortly after their warranty periods are gone. Many of Amazon (or reviews are written in a hype shortly after their purchases, but some of them are quite insightful and sometimes updated especially if they had troubles. As other people have pointed out, chow is the good place as there are always someone with good knowledge/experience who are kind enough to answer my follow-up questions.

              2 Replies
              1. re: hobbybaker

                I always wait 6 months to a year after reviewing something like cookware on Amazon.

                1. re: Soop

                  Hi, Soop - Then, you are the one who always got my "yes" to the helpful vote ;)