Are online and mobile consumers swayed by a multiple stars and glowing product reviews?

PowerReviews and Northwestern University’s Medill IMC Spiegel Digital and Database Research Center studied ratings and reviews to better understand their influence on purchase probability. First and foremost, the study concluded that ratings and reviews are one of the top factors impacting purchase decisions, second only to price.

When it comes to ratings, star power only goes so far. A rating between 1 and about 3 stars has little effect on the sale. When the star rating surpasses 3, the likelihood of purchase rises. Consumers are more likely to purchase a product with a 4-star rating than one with 3 stars. But, propensity to purchase peaks with an average rating of between 4.2 and 4.5 stars. After 4.5 stars, the likelihood of purchase dips. It seems that consumers don’t trust a perfect 5 rating, believing that it’s simply too good to be true.

Northwestern’s researchers analyzed data from multiple e-commerce websites, including 22 product categories with a total of 111,460 stockkeeping units.

While is seems counterintuitive, negative reviews can have a positive impact because they help establish trust and authenticity, the study said. “Consumers understand that a product can’t be all things to all people, and they appreciate negative reviews as an important element in their decision-making process,” the study said. “Previous PowerReviews research found that 82 percent of shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews.”

The ideal number of reviews varies. The Northwestern research team found that the ideal number of reviews depends on the length of the reviews themselves. When reviews are shorter, more reviews carry more weight. However, when reviews are longer, the number of reviews is less impactful.

A review of Columbia women’s Glacier fleece jacket on is short and to the point. “Perfect lightweight fleece top, I have four of them now and wear them ALL the time in the winter. You can layer them when it’s colder, but for everyday they can’t be beat.”

The study offered four recommendations for retailers looking to generate results with ratings and recommendations. Allowing negative reviews to live on a Web site isn’t a purchase-killer. Rather, negative reviews lend authenticity to the content and help build trust with consumers. Besides, the vast majority of consumers actively seek out negative reviews, the study said.

While reviews are considered to be most important for big-ticket items such as appliances and automobiles, Northwestern and PowerReviews looked at high- and low-priced products in the same category and concluded that star ratings had more influence on expensive products. Since there’s inherently a higher risk associated with buying a high-priced item, reviews can help consumers overcome that risk.

The study found that reviews are relevant for new or relatively unknown brands, which could sample their product and solicit reviews.

Finally, retailers should actively solicit reviews. With 80 percent of reviews coming from post-purchase emails, retailers should send consumers an e-mail asking them to review their purchase.


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