There is a strange dichotomy in the realm of reviews. On the one hand, according to market research firm YouGov, approximately 4 in 5 American consumers read online reviews before making a purchase decision. And on the other hand, there are studies that suggest that only about 65% of consumers who “always or almost always read online ratings” believe that the reviews they turn to are consistently credible and accurate. But the most telling figure from these studies says that 48% of respondents find it difficult to tell if online reviews are truthful and unbiased. Furthermore, a recent study by the University of Colorado Boulder pointed out the potential for bias when a product is purchased at a deep discount or provided for free in exchange for a review. All these negative tones have made people more cautious- making them not to trust the reviews.
Clearly, fake, biased, and unauthentic reviews are taking away the sheen of trust from reviews- their unique selling point. The business world, especially the ecommerce world, has tried to address this. Amazon has been aggressively hunting down the fake reviewers and the sellers who have been giving tacit support to such unethical acts. Compared to legal action, though, verified reviews from real customers seem much simpler. That’s why they’ve become more valuable than ever.
Once customers have actually purchased a product, they will receive an email for a product review. It assures the company that they are reviewing the product that they have actually purchased. Such customers are called as “Verified Buyers”. When verified buyers write reviews on the website itself, they get an email to verify their reviews. Only after thorough verification and sound approval by the buyers’ end, reviews get a “Verified Reviewer” badge. In case buyers fail to verify their reviews, they are considered “Anonymous” reviewers. In short, the verification process of reviews is a process that assures that the person who has posted the review has actually purchased the product and the displayed review is written by him.
Verified reviews are tied to transactions that really happened. In case of anonymous or unprompted reviews, sometimes reviews are published under screen names that may or may not be their names in real life. Or names may be real, but there’s no way of telling whether the users actually purchased the product or service they reviewed. Naturally, there remains a difference in a way they both affect the psyche of the customer. A recent study by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Digital and Database Research Center has explored the finer nuances of that difference, such as the difference in the sentiments that they both evoke, and impact on the company’s reputation. The key findings of the study revolve around following points:
A) Verified Reviews Tend to Have Higher Ratings Than Unprompted Reviews:
The study found that the average rating of verified reviews is 4.34 stars, which is right in the range of the ideal average star rating (4.2 to 4.5 stars) for purchase probability. They are also more likely to remain constant over time. Unprompted reviews, on an average, have a rating of 3.89 stars- that too with the possibility of a steady reduction in the future. It has been also observed that verified reviews also have a higher percentage of 5-star ratings, while unprompted reviews claim a larger share of 1-star ratings. And the direct proportionality between the higher number of stars and chances of conversion is a well established fact.
Moreover, this difference between the ratings can be attributed to the environment in which the verified or the unprompted reviewer writes the review. As we have seen earlier, verified reviewers receive a review request via email. Once they decide to write a review, they are taken to a landing page that doesn’t unveil what others have said about the given product or service. Due to this, at this stage their consciousness is like a clean slate- unadulterated and unbiased. They write freely what they really feel about the product. That’s why reviews from verified buyers have 6.5% more product “pros” and 50% fewer product “cons.”
But unprompted reviewers have to navigate through product pages or business listings where previous reviews can be seen and evaluated. On some reviews platforms, previous reviews are showcased alongside the actual review and rating form. It generally becomes impossible to write an honest review amidst the bombardment of reviews, as theory suggests that users who are self-motivated to write a review without being prompted are more likely to have extreme (often more negative) opinions. As a consequence, it brings the average star rating down.
B) Unprompted Reviews Are Much Longer:
The study also pointed out that unprompted reviews are 85% longer in character count than verified reviews. On an average, unprompted review is 376 characters, compared to 203 characters for verified reviews. One reason for this disparity could be due that fact that reviews from anonymous consumers often have more extreme and negative opinions. Expounding these opinions may take more words. It directly means rapid distribution of more negativity about your product. This is not a healthy scenario- especially in the era of social media where things become viral quickly.
It then explains why Amazon’s algorithm gives massive importance to the“verified” badge. It shows non-verified reviews for the product. But that product appears lower on a search than a similar product with more verified reviews. Apart from bringing the possibilities of more positive reviews, verified reviews help in restoring the trust deficit that the overall reviews structure is experiencing. That’s why a set of 10 verified 4-star reviews ultimately more powerful than a set of 10 anonymous 5-star reviews.