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Early retail data suggests 2018 was a strong year for retail, particularly online. According to Mastercard, online sales through November and December were up 5.1 percent over the same period last year. And as Americans buy more online, they also encounter more and more online product reviews. 

According to Gaby Del Valle, a reporter at Vox, online reviews are pretty easy to misuse, especially products on platforms like Amazon that use a star system. She reported that those systems often work in aggregate, so the more ratings a product has, the more likely they are to have higher ratings.

"The thing that happens with reviews is that products that have a lot of ratings and are also very highly rated get kind of pushed to the top of the search," said Del Valle in an interview with Marketplace's Amy Scott. "Then more people buy those products and more people rate those products, so it's kind of is a cycle. It's not that the products with more of use are necessarily better, they just are in the right place."

To gauge your own online review literacy and learn ways you can distinguish genuine reviews from the not-so-genuine, listen to the full interview by clicking the audio player above. 

 

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Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports