How Initial Consumer Reviews Can Affect Future Ones

From The Wall Street Journal:

First impressions are hard to overcome.

That’s true in relationships. And it seems it’s also true with online consumer reviews.

A new study published in Marketing Science finds a product’s first online review has a lasting impact—affecting how many reviews it receives and its star rating.

Researchers found products with a negative first review (three stars or less) received almost 15 fewer reviews overall at the end of six months than products that received positive reviews, and about 36 fewer reviews at the end of 12 months. A negative first review also reduced a product’s average rating by 0.29 star over a year compared with a positive first review.

The researchers controlled for quality by looking at the same exact products that had a positive review on one site and a negative review on another. For example, in one part of the study the authors looked at reviews of identical vacuum cleaners posted on Amazon or BestBuy.com. They found that the trajectory of the online reviews had more to do with that very first review than the product’s overall quality, especially if the review was negative.

“If the first review is negative, the average rating may never reflect its true quality,” says Sungsik Park, assistant professor of marketing at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and a co-author of the study.

The reason, Dr. Park speculates, is that “the first comment may have deterred people from buying and thereby rating the product.” In contrast, a first positive review created a virtuous cycle where positive reviews led to more reviews, which often reduced the effect of any negative feedback.

“It’s all about sample size,” says Dr. Park. “The more reviews, the more likely the comments will reflect the product’s true quality.”

The researchers also found a similar result when they tested this relationship with identical products that had divergent first reviews on Amazon’s U.S. site vs. its Canadian site. Products receiving an initial negative review received 46 fewer online reviews after one year and 128.1 fewer reviews after three years.

The researchers controlled for price, the reviews’ wording and various product features. They found that the results held, but that the relationship was strongest for household products, such as vacuum cleaners or toaster ovens, compared with products used in public, such as digital cameras, where personal observations may also influence purchasing decisions.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

2 thoughts on “How Initial Consumer Reviews Can Affect Future Ones”

  1. …except if you’re a nerd.

    Once upon a time, there was a PBS (and later syndicated) TV show of movie reviews. It starred two major-newspaper critics — neither writing for a NYC or LA paper. Their friendly disagreements, however passionately presented, usually pointed toward the most-interesting films. For naturalistic films, that meant those for which Gene was enthusiastic and Roger lukewarm at best; for speculative-fiction films, the opposite.

    The same thing can indeed happen with consumer reviews; anyone with a serious literary background, or even just taste, knew that books reviewed by mechanical-reviewing-machine H____ K____* on Amazon that were both outside of a middle-American context and rated as anything but the lowest deserved at least a second look. (Some of those books won major genre awards; one of them was a finalist for either the NBA or NBCC award.)

    Or, of course, one could look at the review/”consumer comment” history of The Recognitions, or Brazil, or The Stunt Man, or even 2001 (none of which deserved, or today has, the same negative reputation as provided by the “first mover” reviews); or conversely at the same for A Confederacy of Dunces, or Birth of a Nation, or Gone With the Wind, or Titanic (none of which deserved, or today has, the same positive reputation as provided by the “first mover” reviews); and reach the same conclusion about “first movers” in the long run.

    More to the point, the OP neglects the fake-review problem, because it’s had A History there (as have several of its major advertisers). But that’s for another time, because it exposes what the OP is really about: Conflating “reviews” (whether by “consumers” or otherwise) with “advertising support.” Because there’s money in the latter…

    * This is to avoid triggering search engines. This comment isn’t about that individual, or that individual’s works, or even that individual’s place in criticism/review history; it is about the foolishness of presuming universal application of anything in the interface between commerce and the arts.

    • I understand that at more than one publisher, release day emails to staff include a link to the publisher’s latest book on the Zon and elsewhere with a request (command?) to post a five-star review pronto.

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