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Journal Selections from MSI

Do Online Ratings Reflect Actual Product Quality?

Study says no, consumers trust them more than they should.

A study by Bart de Langhe, Philip Fernbach, and Donald Lichtenstein suggests that consumers trust user ratings more than they should. In a series of lab studies, they asked participants to judge product quality after inspecting products’ web pages on Amazon.com. To define actual quality, they used data from Consumer Reports from 1,272 products across 120 different product categories.

Among their findings:

  • Average user ratings have low correspondence to established quality metrics (Consumer Reports). 
  • Average user ratings are often based on insufficient sample sizes. 
  • Average user ratings do not predict resale prices in the used-product marketplace,
  • When forming quality inferences and purchase intentions, consumers heavily weight the average rating compared to other cues for quality like price and the number of ratings.
  • Holding quality constant, more expensive products and brands with better reputations get better ratings.

Three commentaries from well-known marketing scholars challenge the authors’ findings, and de Langhe, Fernbach, and Lichtenstein respond.

Download from the Oxford University Press (free until April 30, 2017)
Navigating by the Stars: Investigating the Actual and Perceived Validity of Online User Ratings  by Bart de Langhe, Philip M. Fernbach, and Donald R. Lichtenstein, Journal of Consumer Research (April 2016) 

Amazonian Forests and Trees: Multiplicity and Objectivity in Studies of Online Consumer-Generated Ratings and Reviews, A Commentary on de Langhe, Fernbach, and Lichtenstein by Robert V. Kozinets 

Imperfect Progress: An Objective Quality Assessment of the Role of User Reviews in Consumer Decision Making, A Commentary on de Langhe, Fernbach, and Lichtenstein, by Itamar Simonson 

Objective vs. Online Ratings: Are Low Correlations Unexpected and Does It Matter? A Commentary on de Langhe, Fernbach, and Lichtenstein by Russell S. Winer and Peter S. Fader 

Star Wars: Response to Simonson, Winer/Fader, and Kozinets by Bart de Langhe, Philip M. Fernbach, and  Donald R. Lichtenstein 

Journal Selections from MSI (October 2016)

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