How do online reviews build trust?

Discussion
Photo: @nina_p_v via Twenty20
Nov 04, 2020

Research continues to show that most consumers trust online reviews as much or nearly as much as recommendations from family and friends. The data continues to offer insights into what’s driving that trust.

Among the findings:

  • Four-star reviews are often better than five: Research from Questrom School of Business and Stanford University found moderately positive reviews can sometimes be more persuasive than “extremely favorable” reviews because the slightly lower reviews stand out. Researchers wrote, “This deviation effect occurs because reviews that deviate from the perceived default are believed to be more thoughtful, and thus accurate, which enhances their persuasive impact.”
  • Negative reviews encourage dwell time: Research by social commerce specialist Revoo indicates that consumers spend five times as long on a site when they interact with negative reviews, trust the reviews more and convert nearly 85 percent more often.
  • Mobile reviews are trusted more: Research from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business found reviews posted from a mobile device lead consumers to have higher purchase intentions. Consumers assume they’re “more physically effortful to craft and subsequently equate this greater perceived effort with the credibility of the review.”
  • Brands benefit by responding to reviews: Researchers from the University of Southern California and Questrom School of Business found management responses to online reviews led to higher ratings in part because unsatisfied customers were found to be less likely to post baseless negative comments. Negative reviews also improved because they tend to be longer and are more likely to provide substantive, useful feedback.
  • Recency and ratings draw attention: According to BrightLocal’s “Local Consumer Review Survey for 2019,” the top factors consumers pay attention to when judging a local business on reviews are recency, cited by 58 percent, followed closely behind by overall star rating, 57 percent. The remaining factors were quantity of reviews, 50 percent; legitimacy, 49 percent; sentiment, 43 percent; if the business responds to reviews, 39 percent; length and detail, 37 percent; and if reviews include photos, 32 percent.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are the obvious and less obvious factors driving trust in online reviews? What core steps should brands and retailers be taking to ensure online reviews are more of a positive than a negative influence?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I don´t think any brand that deserves to be trusted can go wrong in using and promoting online reviews."
"Trust benchmark reports typically find that people trust people like them."
"User-generated content such as reviews nearly always performs better than other content types as they come across as more authentic than anything the brand says directly."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "How do online reviews build trust?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

Reviews matter in part because consumers no longer trust what the brand has to say about their own product or service. Spotting fake reviews can be tough but, if there are many of them, customers catch on quickly.

Nobody wants to be fooled and reviews significantly reduce the purchase risk and can often reveal insightful information about products or services that even the brand does not promote – or does not know how to promote.

I remember one time seeing reviews for a hotel where nearly everyone gave the hotel a 5 or a 1. The reason was that they had a social environment that went on well into the evening – so young people gave them a 5 while older people who wanted to get some sleep gave them a 1.

I don´t think any brand that deserves to be trusted can go wrong in using and promoting online reviews.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

When fact-based selling and category management came onto the scene in the ’90s, our company was involved in introducing many CPG sales and marketing groups to the concepts. One of the opening “attention-getters” we used went like this. “There are only two sources retailers will believe — and neither of them is you. They will believe credible third-party data and stories about the experience of other retailers in their market.” In many ways the “stories about other retailers” is analogous to online reviews — they relate other similar constituents’ actual experiences. This tends to have very high credibility with consumers. Having the brands respond to reviews shows that the company is paying attention to its customers. Demonstrating a mitigating action in that response builds even more trust.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

What’s driving trust in reviews? Easy: user-generated content. User-generated content almost always performs better, converts better, and is more widely trusted. The more interesting question, to me, is exactly who are these users generating all these reviews? I rarely – and I mean very rarely – write reviews, nor does anyone in my social circle. The fact that I don’t know any regular reviewers sows great distrust with me, I am somewhat dismayed to admit! Does anyone you know write lots of reviews?

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Dave – you ask the right question! Just as in your circle, I don’t know anyone in mine that writes reviews for products or businesses. The closest I or anyone in my core group come to is assigning star ratings to restaurants. So where do all those reviews come from? If we didn’t live on opposite coasts you’d have to wonder if our social circles are related!

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Ha! Nice to hear we have similar experiences, Ricardo! I have more people in my circle who have never written a review than those that have written just one review — even for restaurants. I hate being a cynic, but I honestly do wonder who is writing all these reviews … which fuels my trust issues!

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Have to admit I feel like the odd person out here. I’ve personally written reviews (usually book reviews) and once in a while a product review. The thing is, retailers automate sending out review requests to customers via email at times just after they’ve received the product (both as a marketing tool and review building tool). For sites with high traffic (Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc) these become a numbers game for those willing to mention something about the products. Depending on the customer base, sometimes the respondents will pan out to be those looking for a complaint medium or a way to praise their product or experience. In either case, the reviews are enormous learning opportunity for both retailer and consumers.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

A moment of levity: Listen to “Lies” by the Knickerbockers, 1966 (and later Linda Ronstadt).

Bethany Allee
Guest

One of the most obvious reasons online reviews are trusted is the ability to see the product in context. The best online review services offer reviewers a way to add photos to their review. Photos immediately lend credibility to the review – positive or negative. There are a few ways retailers can ensure these reviews are more of a positive than negative experience:

  1. Listen to the reviews and react accordingly. Interact with reviewers. It goes a long way if a retailer has negative reviews and consumers can see a retailer interacting and attempting to make amends.
  2. Do a good job. If you have a lot of negative reviews, there’s a reason. Fix it.
Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I believe honest reviews that focus on product features or quality will always be credible, but if there is too much prose and detail they start to sound fake. I think it’s important for retailers to respond to reviews, especially bad ones, in a positive way. I think it demonstrates that the retailer takes feedback well and that they are receptive to their customers.

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

The obvious factor driving trust is that reviews are unbiased by actual buyers and/or users of said item who were not incentivized to write the review.

To ensure positive reviews, set expectations on the product page. Read customer reviews and update product descriptions to highlight the popular most positive and most negative comments. Full transparency e.g. summarizing these in an easy to find place goes a long way toward establishing long-term trust.

I’ve also wondered why shopper profiles that are “like me” aren’t leveraged more. Either by using generic “like me” profiles or integrating social profiles. This would save me a lot of texting before trying to find a Netflix show or a great gift. This would go a long way toward setting expectations up front.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

We have a saying in our office: a lie unchallenged becomes truth. And when it comes to reviews, businesses must respond to reviews when deemed necessary — and to both good and bad reviews. This suggests to the customers that the business is aware and dedicated to it’s performance of service to its customers. All this builds trust.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
There’s no question reviews drive conversion. Most people I know that shop on Amazon will say they read the product reviews to help them decide which product to buy in a category. The same is true for deciding which restaurant to visit. Consumers want validation that “people just like them” made the same decision they are about to make and liked it. Likewise, they want to know if they’re about to make a risky decision. As others have pointed out here, however, I do wonder where all the reviews come from as no one in my circles admits to writing such reviews! So either no one likes to admit to it, or there are specific demographic groups that favor writing reviews and some groups that do not. Either way, it seems we all make use of them! Brands and retailers should consider reviews a valuable part of their shopping experience. User-generated content such as reviews nearly always performs better than other content types as they come across as more authentic than anything the brand says… Read more »
Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust
We all know that user-generated reviews leverage social proof – the psychology that people look to others to determine the correct way to behave. They nudge people on a subconscious level to entertain the idea of purchasing a product. But the less obvious impact is that of negative reviews: Used well, these can actually balance out the positive reviews by giving the consumer more information. And more information facilitates decision-making, which fosters trust in the brand. Of course one bad review amid a lot of good ones (psychologists also call this the “Blemishing Effect,” and can actually influence purchase behavior) is always better than a plethora of bad ones. It’s up to the retailer to curate an assortment that’s in line with their shopper’s behavior, by making those reviews truthful and informative. Brands could also use surveys in email marketing and then auto-generate the reviews themselves, so customers can have a tailored view of what attributes are good about the product and what are bad (sizing, color, material, you name it). Shoppers should also be… Read more »
Kim DeCarlis
BrainTrust
Trust benchmark reports typically find that people trust people like them. Think about it: pre-pandemic, if you were a foodie that ate out regularly and had a keen ability to find the best spots to eat in any town around the world, you’d likely discount a restaurant review from someone who rated a restaurant highly, but stated that they only go out twice a year on birthdays and anniversaries. With this in mind, brands should make sure that their online reviews include specifics about the reviewer so that other readers can determine whether the context and expectations map to their own experience. This is one definition of a market: a self-referencing group of customers. Since reviews are a key point of engagement with customers, brands should acknowledge all reviews. But they should take special steps to respond to those that are negative, acknowledging the feedback and providing answers and action steps. This kind of transparency will make future shoppers more comfortable working with the brand and has the potential to frame negative reviews in a… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“More physically effortful” = “harder”? If there’s one word that sums up value in a review it’s “believability” (one might think “relevance,” but that’s only true if “believable” is satisfied). That’s why “4 stars” are preferred over 5. People know things are seldom perfect.

Beyond that, we get into conflicting opinions. Personally, I don’t think businesses should “encourage” reviews — it can suggest bribery too easily — but they should scan them for obvious falsehoods. Management responses can be appealing for smaller companies, but auto responses — “thanks for writing” — particularly if they don’t actually address the comments, do little.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Online reviews are an inherent part of the ecommerce experience. There is some herd mentality to reviews, but in many cases, just having reviews increases the credibility of products, and there is a positive impact whether reviews are negative or positive.

Matter of fact, products with no negative reviews are immediately suspect as there is a suspicion by customers that customers don’t have adequate information and the reviews may not be genuine. More common norms include confirmed purchases and quantified product characteristics, so issues such as delivery time and sizing are evaluated by the customer separately. Meaning a poor delivery time doesn’t reflect poorly on the product quality.

The nature of trusting reviews is allowing dissemination of all types of reviews — negative and positive. The only exception is review fraud where people are paid to provide positive reviews or paid to post negative reviews on competitors. If anything, retailers can maintain trust through keeping fraudulent reviews off their platform but allowing complete transparency (with decency of course) to customers posting reviews.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

As noted, reviews do make a difference. It is useful to recall that before social media reviews became popular, the issue of customer satisfaction was measured in terms of the number of complaints and probability of repurchasing by the offended consumer. Keep in mind, most customers do not complain to the offending business. Research from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs showed that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain and 91% of unhappy customers will never purchase services from you again. Instead, they tend to “grumble,” expressing their disappoints and dissatisfaction to everyone else, then they simply disappear from the business. On average, a grumbling dissatisfied customer will tell 15 people about their bad experience. Social media ratings give a company a chance to view and respond to grumblers, which is necessary to protect your company image.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I don´t think any brand that deserves to be trusted can go wrong in using and promoting online reviews."
"Trust benchmark reports typically find that people trust people like them."
"User-generated content such as reviews nearly always performs better than other content types as they come across as more authentic than anything the brand says directly."

Take Our Instant Poll

Are retailers missing a bigger opportunity by not encouraging online reviews or not monitoring negative reviews enough?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...