The modern world of consumption is characterized by the steadily growing e-commerce sector and a large variety of shops, brands and providers. According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office (2019), 84% of Germans have already ordered something online and almost a third of users make at least one online purchase per week (Statista, 2019). These numbers have grown since the pandemic, as 36% of Germans indicate that they now purchase more products online (Bitkom, 2020). In order to make the right purchase decision in this unmanageable variety of offers, consumers are increasingly orienting themselves towards recommendations from other customers who have already bought a product and who share their experiences with other users (Lis & Korchmar, 2013). While in the past buyers were mainly influenced by advertising and personal sales advice, studies have shown that today many consumers not only proactively seek digital recommendations, but also prefer them over traditional information sources (Bickart & Schindler, 2001; Heckathorne, 2010; Mourali et al., 2005). This digital communication between consumers is known as electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) and the most relevant form are online product reviews (Lis & Korchmar, 2013).
Consumers see online product reviews as a relevant source of information and orientation, which is tailored to the specific product or service of interest. They are usually regarded as independent and objective. However, due to the high reach, many companies have recognized that product reviews are an inexpensive and at the same time effective instrument in order to increase sales (Lis, 2013). This leads to the issue that some companies have started to manipulate product reviews or even defame competitors with negative reviews. These corporate actions can deceive consumers in their perception and lead them to biased purchase decisions (He et al., 2020). In view of the questionable authenticity and objectivity of some contributions, the perceived credibility of a review plays a decisive role in its impact on consumers.
In his research, Jan Klenk from the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences investigated the determinants and implications of online product reviews based on the classical Hovland-Yale-approach for persuasive messages (Hovland et al., 1953), which considers the sender of the message, the message itself and the recipient of the message as relevant aspects of persuasion. It is of interest to see, how these three aspects interact and determine the credibility of a product review. The central research question was, which determinants (sender, message, recipient) significantly promote the credibility of online product reviews?
In an online survey, 244 consumers were asked to evaluate fictional reviews, which were manipulated regarding the influencing variables described above. Half of the participants stated that they had already written product reviews themselves. Besides, 66% of participants indicated that they use product reviews often or always and 78% stated that they have a positive attitude towards product reviews. The study revealed that product reviews have a great importance for consumption decisions. Credibility of these reviews is largely determined by sender and message-specific characteristics. In addition to the perceived expertise of the sender and the quality of the arguments used in the review, the trustworthiness of the sender is particularly important. It has the highest degree of effectiveness of all factors and should therefore be the focus of possible measures to increase the credibility of online product reviews. In comparison, recipient characteristics were found to be of little relevance in this study.
To sum up, both, the characteristics of the sender as well as of the message, are relevant for credibility and, thus, acceptance of an online product review. Additionally, independence is the basis for sustainable added value from product reviews. Therefore, Klenk suggests that companies should take care to preserve the independence of the reviewers and to present their qualities in a modern and meaningful review system. This is the only way product reviews are accepted by consumers and can create long-term added value for companies, online retailers and consumers.
What are your thoughts on product reviews? Do you rely on them or are you rather skeptical? We are happy to hear your opinion.
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