Why Everyone Reads Reviews, But Few People Admit to Trusting Them

October 19 , 2016 by in Reputation
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Think about the last time you tried a new restaurant. Did a friend recommend it to you, or did you read an online review?

If a friend recommended it, you’d likely mention that in conversation. If online reviews were your deciding factor, you may not mention that in a discussion.

This is something I’ve been thinking about recently. When I saw the new study from Trustpilot, though, I had to think about it on a deeper level.

According to Trustpilot’s study (summary here), 88% of consumers say they use online reviews to inform their purchasing decisions. That makes sense to me. I know reviews are effective for both businesses and consumers. But there’s another part of the study that, upon first analysis, doesn’t quite add up.

Only 18% of those same consumers said they think online reviews are actually valid.

Let that sink in. 88% of consumers use online reviews, but only 18% admit to trusting those reviews.

Where’s the disconnect?

The Rest of the Statistics

Think about that disconnect while we go over the rest of the statistics from the study, because almost all of them point to online reviews being useful, and being used often by consumers.

Here are the big ones:

-20% of the people Trustpilot surveyed said they read online reviews before even visiting a business’ website

-Around 50% said they read a product review before adding the item to their cart

-14% said they would leave an online review on their own accord

-29% said they would leave a review if prompted

-Consumers said they value overall ratings, and an easy-to-read aggregation of a company’s feedback when they peruse online reviews

-Consumers also value total number of reviews

DigitalTrends also published this quote from Fred Mather, General Manager of the Americas for Trustpilot:

“Consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on online reviews to research companies and make purchase decisions. Because consumers are interacting with these online reviews throughout the entire shopping experience, it’s important for businesses to make sure customer feedback is easy to find and showcased throughout every step of the process.”

So, all of this seems pretty gung-ho for online reviews, right?

But there’s that huge elephant in the room.

Only 18% of surveyed consumers say they trust the online reviews they read so voraciously.

I believe it comes down to social stigma.

Social Stigma and Online Reviews

Classmates teasing boyDo you know anyone who admits to being really into reading online reviews?

Everyone I know probably reads online reviews, but I can only think of one person who freely admits they use online reviews to inform every purchase decision. He’s unashamed and, for him, it’s helped him spend his time and money wisely.

But everyone else makes fun of him.

The criticism comes in a variety of forms:

-“You believe everything you read on the internet.”

-“You know most of those reviews are fake, right?”

-“You can’t make your own decisions.”

-“You spend too much time worrying about what other people think. Take a chance!”

-“Those reviews are written by average people. How accurate could they be?”

That last one is the kicker for me.

We trust film critics and restaurant critics because we believe they have some form of education, or possess some sort of intellect that most of us just don’t have.

Is that always true? No. But we’re more likely to trust a New York Times film review than a film review from someone’s personal blog or Twitter account.

You may freely admit that you trust someone from a large publication, but you likely won’t admit that you put your time and money in the hands of some random person on the internet.

But the thing is– we trust those reviews all the time, and it usually works out.

Owning Up

Let’s get back to my friend who really likes online reviews. He’s happy with almost all of his purchases, even if he spends a bit more time in the research phase than most of us do. Those reviews work out for him.

And he’s not stupid or naive– he understands that online reviews paint a full picture through aggregation. He can look at five star reviews, and then at one star reviews, and come to a pretty reasonable conclusion.

He’s not just trusting one random person on the internet. He’s looking through multiple reviews and finding his own logically-based conclusion.

And, really, it’s the same with film reviews. If you’re really into movies, you might take several reviews into account through a site like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic before you plunk down $15 for a movie ticket.

We all do this, all the time. We actually trust online reviews, at least when we can read multiple opinions and come to our own conclusion. We just don’t want to admit it to others.

We don’t want to be seen as naive, or be seen as putting too much trust into “the internet.” We don’t want to seem like we blindly trust our peers, when most people profess they don’t have much respect for their peers in the first place.

But we do our own research, and we usually come to the correct conclusion.

For example, if you were looking for a boarding house for your pet, you might notice the same theme coming up in multiple reviews– the place is dirty. The five star reviews may not mention it, but the three, two, and one star reviews do.

So you move on to the next boarding house.

You didn’t trust the individual online reviews, but you trusted the aggregated whole of all of their online reviews.

Online reviews allow you to come to your own conclusion. You’re not blindly trusting any one person. You’re trusting your own research.

And, by extension, your customers are trusting their own research.

Though we don’t often admit to trusting online reviews in normal conversation, the statistics show that consumers use reviews all the time. Reviews influence our buying decisions.

I’ve seen what earning more honest, authentic online reviews can do for a business, and it’s all positive. I know people read those reviews, and consult them when they’re making decisions. But online reviews are relatively new, and the average person doesn’t want to come off as naive or too dependent on technology.

Online reviews are here to stay, but my guess is the social stigma will wear off in time. When Trustpilot does another study in five years, I fully expect that 18% to increase significantly.


About Brodie Tyler

Brodie Tyler is an experienced speaker, published author, innovative entrepreneur, and digital marketing expert since 2000. When he's not working, he's probably hanging out with his wife and four kids.

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