Product reviews are becoming increasingly important in consumer purchase decisions. Nearly 60% of consumers report product rating as the most important attribute considered in their purchase decisions; of those who read reviews, 46% pay attention to the number of reviews a product receives (Watson, Ghosh and Trusov 2018). As such, businesses like retailers, hotels, and restaurants actively solicit reviews, prompting customers to rate and write about the products or services purchased.
Although this practice is quite prevalent, it is still unclear whether soliciting reviews from customers is an effective strategy. How do solicited customers feel about the email prompts? What kind of reviews do solicited customers write, and are they influenced by product quality, perceived experience, and solicitor type? This multi-method research examines whether the solicitor, e.g., a retailer, a manager of retailers like a franchisor or community organization of local business, or a public forum like Yelp, affects consumers’ likelihood to post a review, the overall rating, sentiment, and valence, and ultimately, consumers’ purchase behavior.
Analyzing a secondary dataset of 50K reviews from an e-retailer’s website, we found that customers who posted reviews by clicking on the solicitation emails gave higher product ratings than those who posted directly on the website. However, the solicited reviews were shorter. Interestingly, products with more solicited reviews have lower prices, and their relationship to purchase conversion is an inverted U-shape.
Further, in a laboratory setting, we investigated the effects of product quality (damaged versus undamaged), perceived product condition and solicitor type (a local company, a community manager, and Yelp) on consumers’ ratings and review sentiments. Within the undamaged product condition, customers perceived solicitations from the local company less negatively than those from the community manager and Yelp. However, the solicitations from the local company were perceived more negatively in the damaged than the undamaged condition. Regarding review sentiments, when posting to Yelp under the damaged condition, consumer reviews were logical but also written in a positive tone. When posting to the community manager’s website, reviews were more confident and formal. Regarding overall ratings, within the damaged condition, consumers gave higher ratings when they perceived the product to be in a poor condition when they posted to the local company’s website than when they posted to Yelp.
This research provides important insights on review solicitation, which may not always be the right strategy. Businesses whose products have inconsistent quality should solicit reviews through their own platforms instead of public forums. Depending on the contexts, solicited reviews have different sentiments and tones, which can influence other consumers’ perceptions of their persuasiveness. We recommend that companies evaluate their own capabilities of delivering positive experiences while deciding whether and how they should solicit reviews from their customers.