When Perusing Online Reviews, Shoppers Value Quantity Over Quality

Consumers are more likely to purchase products that have lower ratings but more reviews than products with higher ratings but few reviews, researchers found.
Feb. 6, 2019
Anastasiya Pocheptsova Ghosh
Anastasiya Pocheptsova Ghosh

New research reveals that even though product ratings are a more authentic measurement of product quality, the volume of user-generated content reviews are more influential in shoppers' purchasing decisions.

Study co-author Anastasiya Pocheptsova Ghosh, assistant professor of marketing in the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, and her collaborators found that products with lower ratings but more reviews are more likely to be chosen by consumers than products with higher ratings but fewer reviews.

"The number of reviews sometimes is easier to evaluate than ratings. For example, if both products are rated highly – 4.5 and 4.6 stars – but 80 more people voted for the first product, this larger number is more salient to consumers," Ghosh said. "Basically, the ratings scale is bounded and the number of reviews is not, and it often means that differences in the number of reviews loom larger when consumers make choices." 

Consumers also are more likely to defer purchasing a product when it has few reviews versus when the retailer chooses not to reveal how many consumers completed reviews, the researchers found. Analyzing more than 2.4 million products across 24 product categories, the study involved experimental studies and simulations that indicated that the number of reviews drives sales volume.

"We approached this project from multiple dimensions," said Ghosh, who worked with collaborators at New York University and the University of Maryland. "We had multiple laboratory studies where we designed simulated shopping environments, an eye tracking study where we measured eye movement of consumers looking at reviews, and an analysis of reviews and ratings of the retail giant Amazon."

Implications of the study seem to be that increasing the number of reviews in early- to mid-stage product life cycles might benefit retailers. Results of this study can be helpful for retailers who are considering incorporating review numbers into their product page design, Ghosh said.

"Retailers should really focus on the amount of reviews, not so much on their content or how many stars, when they first introduce the product," she said. "Incentives that encourage your customers to leave reviews – without necessarily knowing whether those will be highly positive – are worth the investment."

The study, "Swayed by the Numbers: The Consequences of Displaying Product Review Attributes," was published in the Journal of Marketing.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Eller Buzz.