Shoppers, retailers, and manufacturers all feel the effects of online customer reviews. Researchers at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business looked at the influence of the first review after they noticed that the exact same products were getting positive reviews on one retailer’s website but negative reviews on others. The question is, “Why would a product receive a 4.7-star rating with 100 reviews on Amazon, but only four or five reviews with a two-star rating on Walmart or BestBuy?”.
To find out, they analyzed what might cause the variation. By comparing identical vacuum cleaners, toasters, and digital cameras on Amazon and Best Buy, they were able to isolate the first review as the key variable in how the product fared. They found that the first review can affect a product’s overall reviews for up to three years, influencing both the amount and the tone of later reviews.
In fact, the first review has the potential to sway the entire evolution path of online consumer reviews.
How could one review have such a lasting impact? When the first review on a retailer’s site was positive, the product went on to garner a larger number of reviews overall, and they were more likely to be positive. When a product got a negative first review, fewer people were willing to take a chance on buying it, so it had fewer opportunities to receive positive reviews, creating a lingering impact from the first unhappy customer.
Once you think about how user reviews are generated, it makes sense.
The findings, published in the journal Marketing Science, suggest that retailers and manufacturers should take steps to detect negative first reviews and mitigate their impact.
Firms generally monitor their online reviews and evaluate their strategies accordingly. However, they typically do so by focusing on average ratings rather than on a single rating, and then, only after the product has had sufficient time to be evaluated by consumers. The new research suggests that firms need to pay attention to the first review as soon as it is posted.
Because shoppers consider user reviews more trustworthy than information from advertising, it’s important to understand the factors that could skew those ratings.