Why a Five-Star Review Isn’t Always a Good Thing for Your Business

Before spending their hard-earned cash on a new product, many shoppers nowadays read online reviews.

But new research has found that even a slew of five-star recommendations may be less persuasive than a more moderate four-star review.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Boston University and Stanford University and is set to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in October 2018, shows that shoppers are especially likely to be swayed into purchasing a product by a moderate review if the majority of reviews are extremely positive, because they perceive the more conservative assessment as more thoughtful. So even if a dozen customers give a pair of sneakers a perfect rating, it might be the 13th, not-quite-perfect rating that convinces the next would-be buyer.

One element that can make a difference when it comes to a review’s persuasiveness, however, is length: When a review is long, shoppers perceive it to be thoughtful, whether it is extremely positive or moderately positive. The study’s authors used real Amazon reviews to test this, presenting participants with products that had default five-star ratings, along with reviews of varying length and enthusiasm. They also analyzed reviews on a site that gives customers the option to mark a review as “helpful” and found that they were more likely to do so on four-star, rather than five-star, reviews.

For shoe retailers that offer customer reviews online (a share that’s increasing every year), these findings could be strategically helpful, particularly for products that already have great reviews. Highlighting more moderate comments rather than those attached to a perfect rating could be the unlikely key to making a sale.

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