Why 3-Star Reviews Should Be Your Secret Weapon When Shopping Online

Scrolling right by those one- and five-star reviews could be the key to getting the most accurate take on whatever you're about to buy.
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Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost here, and that means a slew of opportunities to save money on the things your friends and family want the most this holiday season. (Or, let’s be honest, the things you want the most.)

Still, how can you tell if those snow boots are really going to keep your feet warm? How do you know if the resolution on that 85-inch TV is as dreamy as the manufacturer claims?

You don’t. But other people who’ve already pulled the trigger and bought the items on your wish list do. And some of them probably left reviews that could be useful in separating the hype from the truth about your potential purchases.

However, not all reviews are the built the same. Most of us are quick to look at the one-star and five-star reviews to get a sense of the best and worst experiences with the product in question. But the three-star reviews might actually be the most illuminating of all.

“When we asked people for tips, someone said: Look at the three-star reviews,” Noah Michelson, co-host of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast with Raj Punjabi, said on the most recent episode of the show. “The one- and the five-stars are obviously going to be either angry people, or people who are just so in love with the product, supposedly. But the three-star is going to be really levelheaded, and they’re actually going to tell you what the pros and cons were.”

“You really want to look for a healthy mix” of reviews, Emily Ruane, head of HuffPost Shopping, told us. “You want to look for mostly positive reviews, because you want a well-reviewed product, but you also want a healthy mix of some three-star, some one-star, because it’s just not possible that every single person that bought a product is glowingly, obsessively happy with it.”

Ruane pointed out some other red flags, including reviews that seem “too perfect,” and reviews with unnatural-sounding language or syntax that come across like they were written by a bot.

Another thing to watch out for: products with reviews that were all left around the same time. “If there’s a bunch of reviews that are all clustered around the same day, week, month, and then there’s no reviews for any other time, that was probably the product of someone just collecting a bunch of reviews from someone and just dumping them onto their site,” Ruane said. Sorting the reviews by “most recent” can help you spot these instances.

These are just a few of the tips and tricks Ruane shared with us. We also learned the finer points of price tracking, how abandoning an item in your online cart could end up getting you a discount, and much more:

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Need some help with something you’ve been doing wrong? Email us at AmIDoingItWrong@HuffPost.com, and we might investigate the topic in an upcoming episode.