How much are your stars worth?

The review system for online shopping is broken.

John I. Carney
4 min readMay 15

A graphic depicting the hands of two people, each person holding a cell phone, with a dialogue bubble over each phone depicting a five-star review. Images, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

This year, two of my siblings gave me Amazon credit for my birthday. After deliberating for several days, I decided to spend the credit — plus a little of my own money — on a new tablet.

I’d been getting frustrated by my existing Amazon Fire tablet and had wanted to go back to something with access to the Google Play store. (Yes, I know you can sideload the Google Play store onto an Amazon Fire tablet, and I did that at one point, but eventually ran into problems with it.)

I found what looked like a great deal on Amazon — an inexpensive tablet with a little bundle of accessories including a bluetooth keyboard. It was obviously from a no-name Far East company, one of those firms with an unpronounceable name that seemed to have come from from a random letter generator. But the specs seemed OK, and the reviews looked good. Several of the reviews indicated that the company reached out to them about warranty registration soon after the tablet had arrived.

I decided to take the risk and ordered the tablet. It arrived yesterday, and after setting it up I have been more or less pleased with it. It works as advertised. Time, however, is a factor in such things; it could be days or even weeks before the device’s shortcomings become apparent.

I looked to see if there was any way to register the device online. There’s a QR code in the manual, but I couldn’t get the resulting website to work.

Today, I got a message through Amazon’s third-party-seller message system asking me to send the company an e-mail, with my Amazon order number in the subject line, to activate my warranty. This seemed like an odd way to handle warranty registration, but I went ahead with it.

A few minutes later, I got a confirmation e-mail saying that my warranty had been activated — and, oh, by the way, if I were to leave a five-star review, I would be eligible to receive $25 from the company. If I included photos with my review, that would be bumped up to $60. They made it clear that this was just a suggestion, and if I didn’t want to participate, that was fine too.

But now, of course, I understand all of the glowing reviews for the product on Amazon.

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at