My Dad’s Secret “4-Star Shopping Rule” Hasn’t Failed Him Yet

published May 6, 2024
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When it comes to decor and other home purchases, some people are born browsers: They’ll show up at a store, or a flea market, or even a website and just poke around patiently until they see something they like. (Those people tend to be the best at finding thrift store treasures.) And then there are the researchers — those are the people who turn every purchase into a full investigation of all the possible options before they’ll even dream of choosing a winner. If you’re buying anything online, you want a researcher in your corner.

But whether you’re a browser or a researcher, there’s one golden rule I learned from my dad that’s worth adding to your shopping tool belt: Skip five-star rated products, and only buy four-star products instead.

Sound backwards? It did to me, too, but you can’t argue with results — my dad has no buyer’s remorse on any of the major purchases he’s made by sticking to this rule. He dropped this fact casually in a phone conversation, and obviously I had to learn more.

“My belief is that the likelihood of every single person buying a product and giving it five stars is extraordinarily low,” says my dad, a now-retired engineer by trade and by soul. So if a product’s overall rating is a five-star one, that means it’s probably highly skewed in favor of fives.

Too many five-star ratings — anything over 30%, but especially 50% and higher, he says — gives my dad pause. When the ratio of individual five-star reviews is that high, there’s reason to believe that the reviews are bought, are bots, or are being deleted (with only non-negative reviews remaining). It’s even more suspicious if the five-star reviews have little to no commentary.

Even while reading individual reviews, my dad skips the five-star ones. The three- and four-star reviews, he says, are the ones where people tend to share the most insightful comments about possible shortcomings of products. “Even real five-star reviews are often not very detailed,” my dad says. “Often it’s just, ‘this is the best I’ve ever used.’ That’s not helpful.” Three-star reviews are where you’ll hear about actual gripes people have, along with reasons they liked the product, too.

So, do you need to swear off all five-star products? Maybe not, but it’s worth baking a little suspicion into your shopping plan. My dad’s four-star rule is a pretty good argument against automatically buying the highest-rated product available. Sometimes, it seems, second really is best.