Online reviews explored

Grant Packard conducted a study about the link between knowledge and reviews (Photo by: Andriana Vinnitchok)
Grant Packard conducted a study about the link between knowledge and reviews (Photo by: Andriana Vinnitchok)

Do you let online reviews influence your purchases? Research by one Wilfrid Laurier University professor says that these reviews must be taken with a grain of salt.

Grant Packard is an assistant professor of marketing  at Laurier whose research was motivated by an interest in how people manage beliefs about themselves and how others perceive them.

He noticed several of his friends liked to talk about cars and though he knew little about this topic, he found himself speaking extensively about it in order to improve how they viewed him.

According to Packard’s study, this same concept can be applied to people who post reviews online on review sites, social media or blogs.

Packard and David Wooten, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, conducted a study asking participants to write online reviews about movies, books and music. During the four experiments, participants were told that they could write as much as they wanted and share it with as many people as they wanted.  Before making their reviews, participants were often tested on their knowledge about the product.  They were asked how much they knew about a product and how much they wished they knew.

“They might be asked to complete a music trivia game, for example,” said Packard.

What the study found was that the less comfortable people felt about their knowledge of the product, the more they would write and share about it.  Despite this, according to Packard, many people mistakenly believe that online reviewers do not have a motive to mislead.

“This word of mouth advertising is increasingly important because rather than getting information from marketers, people are now getting it from the internet and we trust in it strongly,” said Packard.

While marketers may be guided by the profit motive, online reviewers have their own reasons to skew things: they want to look good.

According to the study, shoppers need to be wary of long-winded and lengthy reviews.  These things could be signs of a reviewer trying to seem knowledgeable.

Reviews that frequently refer to the reviewer, using words like “I” or “me” should also be doubted.  People who feel uncomfortable in their knowledge of a product are also likely to rate it highly.  Packard even cautions against trusting a friendly face.

“People are more likely to do this with friends than with strangers,” said Packard.

The studies’ results were published in the October issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Packard and Wooten’s study was also featured in the Globe and Mail last week.

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