How Reviews Influence Sales (Positive and Negative)

Unsurprisingly, this brief analysis of how reviews influence sales on Amazon equates quite well with my purchasing behaviour; I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a product with 100% positive reviews unless I knew personally that it was awesome. And a product with less than 15 reviews or so? Forget about it.

[A] handful of bad reviews, it seems, are worth having. “No one trusts all positive reviews,” [John McAteer, Google’s retail industry director,] says. So a small proportion of negative comments—”just enough to acknowledge that the product couldn’t be perfect”—can actually make an item more attractive to prospective buyers.

The sheer volume of reviews makes far more difference, according to Google’s analysis of clicks and sales referrals. “Single digits didn’t seem to move the needle at all,” says Mr McAteer. “It wasn’t enough to get people comfortable with making that purchase decision.” But after about 20 reviews of a product are posted, “We start to see more reviews—it starts to accelerate.”

2 thoughts on “How Reviews Influence Sales (Positive and Negative)

  1. John

    When buying technology products, I definitely look at the negative reviews first. I can generally tell pretty quickly if the reviewer is knowledgable and if so whether his problems might apply to my intended use. The positive reviews usually aren’t specific enough (“works great!” “just what I expected!”) to be useful.

    I behave similarly when buying nonfiction online, although I find it’s much more likely that the positive reviews have useful content. I have usually become interested in a title because of an outside recommendation from an online source whom I trust.

    Reviews of fiction I find almost useless. However, I don’t read much fiction anyway.

  2. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    Hi John,

    I’m very similar: when browsing for technology products I invariably look only at the negative comments. Like you, I find the positive comments to be non-specific and sometimes premature. As an example, when shopping for an external HDD recently the majority of negative comments mentioned how the drive was failing after a few months—most positive reviews were written within days of the purchase, commenting on how quiet and fast it was.

    Similarly, I also usually get introduced to my nonfiction reading from outside recommendations (online and offline friends who have similar tastes). However, I have lately been using another tactic: picking one or two of the most interesting sounding books from the reference section of the book I just finished. So far, it’s working a charm!

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