Reviews and ratings: they're important but why?

As TrustPilot reveals the findings from their research into online reviews and the impact they can have on commercial impact (the report claims that they create the potential to generate up to 40% additional revenue per year), I thought it was nigh time to put forward some thoughts on the role that reviews play in purchase journeys.

And in essence I think the role we think they play is different to the role they actually play.

Imagine you’re looking for a country spa to take your loved one after he or she has been through a very stressful period. You’ve got a couple of ideas in mind about what you want: idyllic, peaceful, spa with good facilities and massages, easy access to a village for restaurants and coffee shops, a decent restaurant on the premises and so on. You’ve looked at the photos and prices and have a couple in mind but in one the rooms look a little old fashioned even though the country manor is beautiful, a little Downton Abbeyesque while the other has very modern rooms and facilities but doesn’t have the sprawling grounds. So you read the reviews. You learn the rooms in the first are in fact a little small and poky and old-fashioned but that they rent out bicycles to cycle in the forest on the property and to the nearby village and they have pedal boats in the lake. The modern one doesn’t have a restaurant but the massages are given excellent ratings. You choose the first one even though the ratings for the rooms weren’t good because key criteria was relaxation: the first sounds idyllic.

This example shows how reviews aren’t used as rationally as we may think.

In interview after interview I have learnt how many people consult consumer and expert reviews in decisions from services to cars to household appliances to travel. However at the point that they do so they’re collecting opinions and are past the point of collecting info – review collection is an exercise in cognitive bias: it confirms what they are already predisposed towards (or against). If they are already inclined towards the brand or service then the positive reviews bolster that opinion and give them reassurance; if they’re not then the negative reviews confirm why they don’t feel positive about it. Even for those who aren’t strongly positive or negative, they will look for evidence to support even the smallest inkling they have.

I have heard people speak about the impact – or lack thereof – of ratings; that maybe the only role reviews have is in the qualitative review but here I disagree. However, again, I believe that how people use ratings isn’t what you expect.

Of course they use it to get an overall picture and rule out one versus another – why consider a hotel with a rating of 6 when there’s another equally good looking one at the same price with a rating of 8?

They are certainly viewed as more valuable than a professional rating, such as the ‘stars’ system for hotels. After all, who’s stayed in a 5 star hotel and been genuinely surprised that 5 star hotels weren’t that much better than 4 stars? The truth is you trust another person like yourself more.

But the problem however really comes in with the different values we each put to a rating. After a recent weekend away, my boyfriend asked what I thought it should be rated as. I thought, for what we were getting, it was pretty good so I said an 8. But for him, versus other amazing places we’ve stayed, it didn’t deserve an 8. But essentially our feedback was the same.

So how do consumers navigate that? Well, what I’ve seen is that they use the overall rating to filter out options, choosing one that both has a high average rating (for their budget) as well as a balance of higher ratings (i.e. fewer negative ratings than the next company). Then they look at the top and bottom ratings. What did the people giving a 1 or 2 say and why did they give low ratings, versus the reasons people gave 8 or 9. Of course, even the most positive people will review their evaluation if the bulk of the reviews is negative and stands against what they’re looking for.

And I believe that is how ratings and reviews work together, both playing an important role in the purchase journey.

Ultimately what this means is you can’t ignore either ratings or reviews. You need to actively respond to the negative ones – turn these people around with your response, if you can, to turn them into advocates – and make sure that the majority are positive. Give them the reason they’re looking for to support their predisposition.

So, what is your advocacy strategy to ensure people are talking positively and in the right places?

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