Online reviews have become increasingly important to shoppers, with a recent survey conducted in April 2021 finding that 94% of consumers indicated online reviews as the most important factor in their online purchase decisions.
However, a 2022 study by professors from The University of Massachusetts & South Florida, titled "Swayed by the reviews: Disentangling the effects of average ratings and individual reviews in online word-of-mouth", challenges the commonly held view that a product's average rating plays a greater role than individual reviews in consumers' purchase decisions in increasing product sales.
The study found that while a product's average rating is all-encompassing and a comprehensive measure of product quality, "...most consumers who have high purchase intention also consult individual reviews before making up their minds". This shows that consumers are not as "rational" as received wisdom assumed and that consumers’ purchase decisions highly influenced by a few top-ranked reviews.
To see for yourself, take a look at these two products from a UK supermarket website. If you didn't know the brands, would the average ratings really help you choose?
Here are the Top 3 reviews under each:
Now, which one will you choose?
The ratings on the right are stronger but the important part is the descriptive, influential text of the first and third reviews on the right. Neither of the middle reviews is that influential. The ones on the right are also much fresher, the oldest when we took this data was only 2 months old, much less than our recommended 6 months. Only one on the left is fresh enough for shoppers from our research.
So you'd buy the right-hand product, right?
What if I told you I switched the text of the reviews round?
Now, which one are you buying?
You can see those Top 3 reviews really matter. Most of your true competitor products will have an average rating similar to yours, one place you can create a significant competitive advantage is through continually optimal Top 3 reviews.
The professors say one of the reasons for this bias towards individual reviews, as opposed to average ratings, is likely due to the fact that concrete information in individual reviews (as opposed to abstract average ratings) is easier to recall from memory and more accessible, thus being perceived as important and familiar consumption experience with the product.
The study which looked at the Top 3 most recent reviews also found that the swaying effect of individual reviews is likely driven by the reviews’ textual content rather than by their ratings. Underlining it is the individual text that matters more than the rating.
This is an important finding for all manufacturers as it suggests that, while average product ratings might still be an important factor in consumers' purchase decisions, the greater persuasive power of a few top-ranked reviews is critical. All brand owners should focus on creating high-quality reviews that are easy to read and contain a great deal of concrete information, such as detailed descriptions of the product's features and benefits.
In conclusion, the findings of this study indicate that individual reviews can have a significant impact on consumers' purchase decisions, and businesses should pay close attention to the content and quality of individual reviews when trying to persuade consumers to purchase their products. By focusing on creating high-quality reviews that are easy to read and contain a great deal of concrete information, businesses can increase rate-of-sale significantly.
Talk to us about our new "Always on" service which specifically focuses on ensuring the Top 3 reviews for any product are the most influential they can be.
We ensure all products we manage always have:
- At least 30 reviews and ideally more than 40
- An average rating of 4.0 or more (where the product deserves it!)
- Top 3 reviews that are all:
- Recent: Less than 180 days old or "fresh" in the minds of shoppers
- Positive: With a rating of 4 or more (where the product deserves it)
- Influential: Longer, clearly written, with a focus on product performance
Do you know if your products are underperforming due to poor Top 3 product reviews?
If you want to find out more talk to us about how our new "Always on" solution can help maximise your sales.