The psychology of reading online reviews

Most consumers read online reviews before purchasing a product or service, but many times we aren’t actually being objective when we read them.

A survey by Digital.com found 54% of online shoppers read reviews for everything they purchase. But some gravitate directly to either the best reviews or the worst reviews. Digital.com says a lot of consumers are reading reviews just to talk themselves into or out of a purchase.

“A lot of people who want to buy the product are going to be focusing on the five-star reviews, and those who are more hesitant are going to be looking at the one-star reviews,” said Dennis Consorte, small business and startup marketing consultant at Digital.com.

About one in three consumers read the first review they see.

While we read the reviews, we don’t always believe them, approaching online reviews with a dose of skepticism. Digital.com says that’s warranted.

“You have paid reviews; you have employees writing reviews; you have companies trying to game algorithms on different platforms. On the other side of that, you have competitors who leave negative reviews and you have online trolls,” Consorte said.

Its survey found that 39% of online shoppers think a business needs more than 100 reviews to be trustworthy, though few if any ever come close to reading that many.

“Most online shoppers read at least three reviews before they make a purchase. Some people read fewer. Some people read more, and 67% will read four or more reviews before making that purchase,” Consorte said.

For merchants, Digital.com’s recommendations for managing online reviews includes responding to negative reviews publicly, and be timely about it, and responding to positive reviews by thanking them.

Digital.com surveyed 1,250 U.S. adult consumers about their online shopping habits on May 17. Its full survey results are online.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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