Customer Ratings Have Become Meaningless. ‘People Hand Out 5 Stars Like It’s Can

FILE PHOTO: Airbnb logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Airbnb logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)


  • Riddled with confusion and guilt, Americans are handing out perfect Uber and Airbnb scores; ‘Don’t have to earn it anymore’

Mike Johnson has endured some awkward Uber rides. He once held his nose throughout a trip because the driver was carrying chopped-up Durian—the world’s smelliest fruit. Another time, he was stuck in the back seat while a driver bickered with her boyfriend. Yet another driver tried to sell him a Ponzi scheme.

He rated each one 5 out of 5 stars.

“I mean, they all seemed like nice people. I didn’t want them to be kicked off the app over my bad rating," the 33-year-old New Yorker said. “Isn’t 5 stars, like, the norm?"

Apps introduced ratings to reward high performers and help users make better choices. Instead, ratings have become almost meaningless on some of them.

Confusion over what constitutes 5-star behavior for certain services, combined with the guilt of potentially hurting someone’s livelihood, has people defaulting to perfect scores. Ratings padding is particularly rampant for services involving personal interactions.

Just like the children in the fictional Lake Wobegon, everyone is “above average" on some apps—way, way above.

Ride-share ratings are so high that Lyft drivers whose scores dip below 4.8 out of 5 stars are asked to work on boosting their performance. Drivers under 4.6 risk getting deactivated, the company said.

Customers say some U.S. apps are designed to encourage 5-star ratings. Lyft, for instance, asks passengers what went wrong if they rate drivers 4 stars.

“They create all this headache when all you want to do is order your next ride," said Viral Gandhi, a healthtech investor in San Francisco. Gandhi’s been in dirty cars, but rated those rides 5 stars to avoid the hassle of answering prompts.

“You still got to your destination, so what are you even supposed to base this on? Half the time you don’t even talk to each other," he said.

One time a driver raced to get him to the airport on time while blasting Billy Joel, which they both enjoyed. Gandhi threw in a generous tip, but felt that he had no option other than to rate him the same as disappointing drivers.

“You give five stars for great experiences with your driver and rider, like excellent service, a squeaky-clean car, or just some good old-fashioned manners," Lyft says in its community guidelines.

“You’re probably not going to feel bad leaving a bad review for Comcast, but your Airbnb host or Uber driver—there’s a greater sense of the potentially negative impact on the person," said Michael Luca, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who researches online platforms and ratings. It makes it seem like “every Airbnb is perfect and every Uber ride is exceptional" because people feel uncomfortable deducting stars, he said.

Drivers are similarly generous. The average Uber passenger in the U.S. is a 4.9 out of 5, Uber said. Uber riders in New York have the lowest average across the country—4.8—while passengers in Virginia’s Hampton Roads have the highest average of 4.97.

“Everyone is a 5, everyone needs a 20% tip or more for doing the bare minimum—that’s just become the culture these days. People don’t have to earn it anymore," said Alex Romanovsky, a 39-year-old San Franciscan who brags about his 4.94 Uber rider rating and says he’s earned it.

He doesn’t make drivers wait and greets them by their first names. When someone rated him a 4 recently, it sent him into a frenzy. “I want to know what ride didn’t give me a 5 because I’m a superstar passenger," he said. Ratings are anonymized on ride-share apps.

For passengers interested in a 5-star rating, don’t slam the door on your way out. “Drivers have consistently cited door slams as a reason why they deduct stars," Uber says as part of its guidelines. “Don’t leave a mess behind," the guidelines add.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who has been driving and delivering on Uber, said he’s a 5-star driver. Lyft’s new CEO David Risher is a 5-star passenger, according to the company. He recently began driving on Lyft.

Romanovsky, who works for the Golden State Warriors, likens 5-star ratings to the idea of participation trophies in youth sports, when children are rewarded for simply showing up.

People overseas are slightly stricter about grading each other. The average Airbnb rating in the U.S. last year was 4.7 out of 5, according to market-research firm AirDNA. Properties overseas averaged 4.63. Uber drivers and riders in some Asian countries are less apt to give perfect scores.

Uber and Lyft say ratings matter to drivers; their ability to remain on the app depends on them. High marks also help drivers move up in the apps’ rewards programs, which typically offer discounts at grocery stores and cash back on gas. Some drivers say they go the extra mile to earn stars.

Driver Roxie Benesch, a 60-year-old who has worked in Austin, San Antonio and Nashville, has a refrigerator with energy drinks, flavored electrolytes and bottled water. She also has a karaoke mic.

She wears green on St. Patrick’s Day, hands out candies on Valentine’s Day and adorns her Tesla Model 3 rental in rainbow colors duringJune’s Pride Month. She has paper bags handy in case people have to throw up after a night out and offers to hold their hair back if they need assistance.

“I haven’t done anything to deserve less than a 5," said Benesch, whose current rating is a indeed a top-notch 5. Sometimes, she gets worried about picking up passengers rated less than 4.8.

“Like a 4.79 is really low. I wonder, ‘Do I have to fear for my life with this person?’"

Some drivers carry breath mints and offer phone chargers, and post stickers asking for a 5-star rating.

“I think it’s really tacky," driver Donnie Freeman says about his peers begging for ratings. Freeman, based in Biloxi, Miss., doesn’t offer any of those perks but says he acts like an ambassador for his city, known for its casinos. He gives tourists suggestions on where to go and what to eat.

Good manners earned him his 5 stars, he asserts, though it doesn’t take much.

“People hand out 5 stars like it’s candy," he said.

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