Online reviews are becoming an ever-more influential factor in the customer decision making process, but many people don’t even look at the review content or the review source, according to new research.
When it comes to booking a summer holiday or eating out for the first time at a swanky-looking restaurant, online customer reviews are now carrying greater clout than most other marketing communications, according to new research by Northumbria University, Newcastle.
Dr Raffaele Filieri, senior lecturer in the marketing department at Newcastle Business School, has recently produced a paper on the importance of these online reviews for consumers to evaluate product quality.
The study, which has been published in the Journal of Business Research, shows that many people don’t even look at the review content or the review source. Instead, they use the overall star ranking to make up their mind about products such as restaurants or hotels.
Dr Filieri also suggests in his research that the “credibility” of online sources is rarely taken into account. If a consumer’s relatives or friends are not available to endorse the product, an anonymous source is increasingly considered acceptable in these cases.
“For a specialist, small business that positive review means a lot – it means money,” said Dr Filieri. “Only a very limited number of people check the credibility of a reviewer and so my results show that credibility is not important for consumer decisions, rather the overall ranking and a product’s features rating.
“What they want to get is information shortcuts – being reviewed by many customers is not particularly important to assess product quality. Very few consumers will read more than 10 reviews before making the decision to buy a product or service – what’s important, to evaluate a product’s quality and performance, is the quality of information provided in those few reviews.
“It is therefore paramount for marketers to understand what makes online consumer reviews helpful and how this process affects a customer’s decisions. If you have a good product then this way the customer can do the marketing for you. This is proving much more effective than spending millions of pounds on advertising.”
Dr Filieri cited the growing importance of sites such as TripAdvisor who are becoming increasingly influential in travellers’ decision-making.
“More and more restaurant owners are asking customers to review them on TripAdvisor,” he said. “They have adopted a strategy which is very effective and rewarding for their business. Hotels or restaurants have been known to offer vouchers or refunds if the customer is willing to remove a negative review from the likes of TripAdvisor.”
The results of Dr Filieri’s study have important implications for marketing managers in a variety of industries.
Marketers of the reviewed products can use the ratings and ranking from popular and independent review websites to leverage their popularity and to influence the opinions of potential customers about the quality of their products.
Dr Filieri used the example of Kia Motors who used more than 10,000 consumer reviews to build their ‘Reviews and Recommendations’ TV advert in 2014. Because a large number of customers are increasingly using online reviews to assess a product’s quality, Dr Filieri believes that by including the customer’s voice into the marketing mix, companies can build a more trustworthy reputation.