Assistant professor explores effects of negative customer reviews

Fei Weisstein1024x1279By Shay Carroll

When you shop for a product online and are unsure of the brand quality, chances are you will consult online reviews to see what others have to say about the product. But how much does that affect your purchase? This question inspired Dr. Fei Weisstein, assistant professor of marketing, to research how negative customer reviews affect purchases.

Consumers often use the internet to collect product-related information, and they rely on consumer reviews to make purchase decisions. “I noticed that several papers on online reviews only look at the effect of positive or negative reviews, but didn’t consider that many consumers shop on the internet with a goal in mind,” Weisstein explained.  “This motivation can influence how they perceive online consumer reviews.”

For Weisstein’s research, she linked those concepts together and studied how consumers process and respond to negative reviews when they shop online, both with and without a purchase goal. Her studies investigated the effect using two variables: the proportion of negative online reviews (high vs. low) and the customer’s purchasing goal (present vs. absent).  

Using targeted products of a pair of headphones and a digital camera, Weisstein worked with two groups of participants in each study. She told one group to look for a pair of headphones and digital camera to purchase, while she told the other group to explore online without the specific goal of purchasing the headphones or digital camera.

Both groups were shown a web page with a product image of headphones (digital camera), name, model number, product price, product description and eight consumer reviews (with two groups of low proportion vs. high proportion). After reading the scenario and browsing the product web page, participants used a seven-point Linkert scale (with 1 being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree) to report how they perceived their price satisfaction, product value and purchase intention.

“Our research findings demonstrate that the proportion of negative reviews has a stronger impact on purchase intentions for consumers with, rather than without, a purchase goal,” Weisstein explained.

Overall, Weisstein’s study helped provide a basis for further investigations on the influence of negative online reviews, which affect both consumer price perception and purchase behavior. “Online shoppers without a purchase goal tend to engage in unplanned exploratory search behavior,” she said.

For example, Weisstein discovered that because experiential consumers do not have a purchase goal in mind, they tend to pay more attention to online shopping environments such as website design, color and font of the content. Thus, the design of the website is also important in attracting experiential shoppers’ attention – most notably when it comes to turning online browsing into online retail sales.

“Goal-directed online shoppers would spend considerable amounts of time viewing consumer reviews and gathering utilitarian information about product performance," Weisstein said. "A high proportion of negative reviews will lead them to perceive very low price satisfaction and product value."

As a result, her study recommended that online sellers proactively manage their online consumer reviews and feedback, specifically negative comments. "The prompt sellers’ responses will lead consumers to perceive that the company cares about its customers," she explained, "which helps improve both the shopping experience and the conversion rate.”