The pattern of online reviews

Schönmüller, Verena ; Netzer, Oded ; Stahl, Florian

Document Type: Conference presentation
Year of publication: 2017
Conference title: 39th Annual Marketing Science Conference
Location of the conference venue: Los Angeles, CA
Date of the conference: 07.–10.06.2017
Publication language: English
Institution: Business School > Quantitatives Marketing und Konsumentenverhalten (Stahl 2013-)
Subject: 330 Economics
Abstract: Past research has highlighted that online reviews follow a J-shaped distribution implying that reviews are skewed to the positive end of the rating scale, with a few reviews in the mid-range and some reviews at the negative end of the scale. But so far the prevalence and reasons behind the J-shaped distribution of product reviews have been largely neglected in previous research. In this research we aim at 1) investigating the robustness of the J-shaped distribution, 2) understanding its drivers and 3) analyzing its impact on consumer behavior. Building on a large set of online reviews - over 78 million reviews from 16 major online platforms, we identify a robust J-shaped distribution on many but not all of the platforms and product categories. Using secondary datasets, survey data and lab experiments, we demonstrate that the J-shaped distribution is primarily driven by self-selection mechanisms while we rule out multiple alternative explanations of the J-shaped distribution such as review fraud and scale truncation mechanisms. Finally, we show how the J-shaped distribution can affect the informativeness of the reviews as well as the key measures of online reviews (the average rating and the number of reviews).

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