Website reviews might not help after all

Product reviews might only help sell if they all say the same thing

Product reviews might only help sell if they all say the same thing

The one thing that the England football team can be sure of is the fact that all the headlines in the British press say the same thing – “rubbish”. They are consistent in their view of the performance of the England players in the World Cup. And, according to new research this helps the rest of us to think the same thing.

Social acceptance theory is well known – we agree with the people around us for fear of being seen as an “outsider”. However, there is another psychological theory called “herding instinct” where we all do and think the same thing without real consideration of what other people might think of us; we do it because everyone else is doing it. You can see this in crowds at events and no doubt we’ll witness it at Glastonbury later this week. Someone will roll in the mud and before you know it, everyone is doing it.

What this new study wanted to look at was the association between herding and online reviews. Would people simply buy a product because of the reviews? Was there some kind of herding instinct possibly coming into play? The results make interesting reading.

The researchers divided their online products into the categories – one group had reviews which all said much the same thing, the second category was mainly good reviews, but some negatives and the third group was inconsistent, with wildly differing reviews. The participants in the study were then given very little time to make up their mind as to whether or not to buy a product. The outcome is somewhat predictable, but nevertheless, interesting. The completely consistent reviews, where they all said much the same thing, led to most decisions to buy.

What this implies is there is a herding instinct in purchasing decisions – we buy something simply because everyone else has bought one. When we see consistently positive reviews that helps trigger this herding instinct.

For website owners who include product – or service – reviews this is important. Much of the theory about including reviews (you can see this on Amazon) is that you should include the negative ones as well as the positive ones. The notion is that this demonstrates honesty. But this new research suggests that honesty of the website is not the lead factor in purchasing decisions; it is whether or not everyone else buys the product. You can see this at market stalls – a good sales person will plant people in the crowd as they demonstrate their latest kitchen gadget. Once the demo is over, each of these people will pass over their tenner and “buy” the product. The result is most people in the assembled crown then also buy. Two things come into play here – social acceptance and herding.

On your website, you can get herding to come into play if you do not include those negative comments or reviews. If you only show a consistent range of reviews this new research shows you are MORE likely to get sales than if you show every review. Of course, only you can decide whether or not you wish to be seen as biased and less than honest. Only you can decide if you want to handle the resulting possible complaints. But if you want more sales, this new study implies you should only publish product reviews which are consistent and broadly say the same thing.

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