How Does the Variance of Product Ratings Matter?

By Monica Sun
Management Science
April2012 Vol. 58 Issue 4 Pages 696-707.

This paper examines the informational role of product ratings. We build a theoretical model in which ratings can help consumers figure out how much they would enjoy the product. In our model, a high average rating indicates a high product quality, whereas a high variance of ratings is associated with a niche product, one that some consumers love and others hate. Based on its informational role, a higher variance would correspond to a higher subsequent demand if and only if the average rating is low. We find empirical evidence that is consistent with the theoretical predictions with book data from and A higher standard deviation of ratings on Amazon improves a book’s relative sales rank when the average rating is lower than 4.1 stars, which is true for 35% of all the books in our sample.