The voluntary nature of online customer review platforms allow customers with strong opinions to self-select their own participation, resulting in an underreporting of bias.
NB: This is an article from Cornell
Because of this, when looking at online hotel and lodging reviews, consumers and even hotel management know to take stars, or lack thereof, with a grain of salt.
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Little academic research has been conducted on the relationship between post-purchase satisfaction and the propensity to share one’s opinion, so what can be learned by consumers, companies, and the online platforms themselves from diving into the details around this subject?
To find out, Christopher Anderson, professor of operations, technology, and information management at the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, set out to examine the relationship between customer satisfaction and reporting motivation in online review platforms.
The results of the study “Customer Motivation and Response Bias in Online Reviews” found that a customer’s intention to post an online hotel review varies depending on the level of their customer satisfaction. Online reviewers are more motivated to post extreme and negative ratings. However, this underreporting bias is reduced when ratings are generated by reviewers who are familiar with the online review posting process.
According to Anderson, the relationship between individual familiarity with a review platform – in this case TripAdvisor – and the underreporting bias can be explained using the benefit-cost theory. Searching and visiting the review platform, creating a new account, figuring out the rules in the community, and understanding questions and instructions are possible factors that drive the ‘costs’ of posting a review online. Who could be bothered putting in the effort to provide a review if doing so takes so much effort unless they are on one of two sides of the positive or negative review spectrum?
On the other hand, it was confirmed that consumers who perceive a low cost in posting reviews demonstrate an equal average reporting propensity across all satisfaction ratings, he said.
“Our study clearly indicates the need for hotels and other product and service firms who partially rely on online [word-of-mouth] to aid consumers in purchase decisions to more actively engage in the review collection process,” Anderson said. “Although our study focuses on the unique natural experiment created at TripAdvisor, it clearly has implications for other social platforms—for example, Yelp, Amazon, and Google.”
The study also has implications for the review platforms themselves, they said, as aiding service firms in the collection of reviews provides a more representative view of the quality of a service or product, further elevating the credibility of the platform.
“Service firms need to simplify review collection, removing any barriers to the posting process for consumers,” the researchers write. “Examples of this simplification might include moving from traditional email solicitation of reviews to text or app-enabled solicitation through mobile devices as well as simplifying the questions asked—changing the focus from in-depth surveys of their stay to a few simple product and service questions of value to future customers.”