the sky floor

Wine Ratings Day Two: How Past Ratings Influence Future Thinking

December 2, 2022

Yesterday I explored how genre, tribes, and pricing can impact ratings and, ultimately, product satisfaction. Today I want to spend a little time looking at the psychology of ratings. 

When I hop into this wine app, I am typically doing one of two things: 

  1. Rating a wine that someone else provided or that I bought on a whim.
  2. Scanning new wines at a restaurant or store to select a reasonably well-rated wine.

In either case, you see the rating before you rate it yourself, which reveals this truth: Ratings set expectations. 

Expectations, whether good or bad, can color our experience. You may not even show up or buy a product when we see all negative reviews. Suppose you skirt the ratings and purchase a poorly rated product or experience. In that case, you will expect a sub-par experience (conversely, sometimes it will take less to be pleased because you were expecting terrible and got o.k.). 

But when a wine has an excellent average rating and is in the price range I want to spend, I will buy it. 

The real thing I want to talk about is the network effect of outstanding ratings: when I sit down and scan a wine that I think is a 3.5 star but comes back as a 4.2, I struggle to rate it as low as I want. Why? I start to think of things like:

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  • I must be missing something
  • Maybe my taste is just off today
  • Perhaps it is the food I am eating with it
  • I am probably being too harsh
  • Can 1,200 other winos be this wrong?

And so, I might up my rating to be a little higher than I would have otherwise. Ratings have no wrong answer; they are personal and subjective, but the effect of the collective rating calls into question my experience. I give my experience grace. Doing this isn’t all crazy either; it is logical to rely on the vast experience of others to see the bigger picture – even in something completely arbitrary like wine preferences. 

It is these effects that make ratings so important. Positive reviews open the door to buyers that having no ratings, or negative ratings, will turn away. But more importantly, it sets the expectation that something reviewed as great will at least be good. The more excellent ratings your product or service can stack up, the more likely customers will give you grace if you don’t wholly offend them. Which side would you like to be on?

Ratings can have a powerful impact on your business. Positive ratings invite buyers in, and negative ratings turn them away. Positive ratings often buy extra grace because customers see anything wrong as an isolated incident. Negative ratings can mean you have a chance to exceed expectations more quickly, but you have to overcome the shadow of the ratings first!

More on ratings from The Sky Floor: