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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 04-Apr-14


Sunday 20-April-14

Negative online reviews: the surprising effects

Do you check what other people have said online before buying things? Very likely you do. A recent 'YouGov' study showed Amazon, Tripadvisor and Yelp to be top 'goto' sites for reviews. It's a phenomenon of the modern age that we can get what we hope is honest, unfiltered opinion on pretty much anything. I'm sure it's one of the keys to Amazon's success and I certainly take notice of what others say.

Reviews, however, are not necessarily accurate. A whole industry has sprung up of people who will, for a price, write nice things about your product all over the place. They will also, even more deceptively, write nasty things about your competitors. A way to detect these types of review is that they are often very short, typically along the lines of 'this product is terrible' and little else. By comparison, more honest reviews tend to tell a story, explaining why the product didn't work for them.

But what people who criticize products do not realize is that when we are reading their reviews, we are also judging them. If they seem like grumpy, unpleasant people who criticize and little else, then we will take less note of their comments. On the other hand, if they seem normal, giving good reason for problems, then we are more likely to believe their reviews. Beyond this again, if they seem like really nice people, being almost apologetic in their criticism, then a curious reversal can happen.

If a reviewer is particularly nice, showing themselves to be decent people by using terms such as 'I'll be honest,' and 'I don't want to be mean, but...', then people reading their negative comments are far less likely to view the product as being poor, perhaps thinking that this is a rare occurrence. In one piece of research people were willing to pay $41 more for a watch if they read a negative but polite online review.

When do negative reviews increase sales? Perhaps being critical, particularly in an area or at a level unimportant to the reader, shows the reviewer to be more honest and so what positive things they say are treated more seriously. There can even be an associative effect. The honest person has associated themselves with the product, so the product gains credibility from that person, more so perhaps than a similar, competing product.

Hamilton, R. Vohs, K.D. and McGill, A.L. (2014). We?ll Be Honest, This Won?t Be the Best Article You?ll Ever Read: The Use of Dispreferred Markers in Word-of-Mouth Communication, Journal of Consumer Research, (forthcoming)

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