Are you really influencing anyone? Testing the credibility of peer reviews

“The explosion of social media websites such as TripAdvisor, Zomato, Rotten Tomatoes and Booking.com has given rise to an ever growing number of amateur critics – all keen to share their thoughts on the hottest hotels, movies and restaurants to future patrons.” say Monash Business school researchers.

New research by Monash Business School shows that when consumers were looking to purchase an ‘experience service’, such as a movie ticket, food or a haircut, they were more favourably swayed by peer reviews on social media sites.  However this behaviour changed when it came time to book a tax accountant, lawyer or doctor where expert reviews had more credibility.

shutterstock_191094545Conducted by Professor Hean Tat Keh from the Department of Marketing at Monash Business School and Professor Jin Sun from UIBE Business School in Beijing, China, this study reinforces the need for businesses to carefully decide whether to emphasise peer vs expert reviews in promoting their services.

Testing of two hypotheses predicted a higher level of reliance on peer or expert reviews dependent on the product or service type.  It follows previous research on dual process theories when buyer confidence is low (heuristicsystematic model of persuasion) people tended to seek out more information on a product or service (elaboration likelihood model) until attaining what’s referred to as a sufficiency threshold.  

The influence of expertise knowledge in an area that’s contextually perceived to be more complex and risky is higher (credence product).   Confidence in that judgement is a subjective experience.   “If one of my friends likes a movie, then I am more likely to watch it and not rely so much on what the professional movie critics have to say. Our studies showed that people want to know what other regular moviegoers thought of the movie before buying a ticket,” Professor Keh said.  “The so-called expert reviews may not matter as much for experience services. For example, Uber Eats uses celebrities to endorse their food service. While this is ok, consumers will bypass this smokescreen and check what other regular customers have to say about that restaurant’s food.”

Three studies were done with samples from China and the USA observing the extent of influence peer and critical reviews were perceived to have.  This was done by assessing a series of credence service reviews (eg. hotel VS dentist reviews) from customers and industry experts exaining the differential effects in review types when consumers.  Note, the sample sizes were predominantly more male in two of them and also had a higher age range.

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It demonstrated a reliance on specialist knowledge when there was a knowledge gap for more complex products like superannuation or hospital care diminishing trust levels in unqualified peer reviews.  “When consumers do not have confidence in evaluating such credence services, then they are more likely to rely on expert reviews,” Professor Keh said.  She deduces the motivations for credence service firms who tended to levitate to industry accreditations or certified ratings from industry bodies when implementing positioning strategies.  “If your business provides a credence service, then companies would be better off having endorsements from experts,” Professor Keh said.  “These expert reviews carry more weight for credence services among consumers and are a very strong endorsement. However, if consumers think that this endorsement is not authentic or independent, then they might not trust the brand.”

Interestingly, the research showed that if consumers were exposed to mixed reviews, then the negative expert opinion would be more influential than the positive peer review for both the experience and credence services.

Keh, H.T., First, K.J.S. (2018).  The Differential Effects of Online Peer Review and Expert Review on Service Evaluations: The Roles of Confidence and Information Convergence

Other papers by Professor Keh

 

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