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.)