Ubiquitous Reviews and Low Participation: Two More Threats to Dedicated Review Sites


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Again this week my colleague Dr. David Ensing has done an excellent job in cooking up some thought-provoking food for thought when it comes to consumer review sites. Can they be trusted? Those marketing to the automotive industry, and individuals within the manufacturers who are using these sites for research, may need to heed some important warning signs.

Until next time.


By: David Ensing, Ph.D.

Do you believe everything you read online? Probably not, and according to the results of our 2013 Online Customer Review Study many people would agree with you. As I noted in my first article on this topic, many customers don’t think the information on dedicated customer reviews sites is trustworthy.

This study of 3,404 online panel respondents asked about their use of customer review and ratings sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and others. Trustworthiness is far from the only issue that may adversely affect dedicated customer review sites. Customers are getting reviews from all sorts of places on the internet (thus reducing the need for dedicated review sites) and when you get down to it, a surprisingly low percentage of customers actually read reviews and much fewer post reviews at these sites.

Yelp logo

What Exactly is a Customer Review Site?

Respondents (and probably the population in general) use a very broad definition of “customer rating and review site.” We asked people to list customer rating and review sites they were aware of, prefacing the question with:

“We are interested in people’s perceptions and use of customer rating and review websites. As opposed to expert or professional review sites, these are places where real customers often assign ratings and write their opinions about products and services.”

We had expected respondents to list sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Hotels.com and others. We received those responses but we also had very high frequencies of respondents list retailer websites where customer ratings are available. These include online retailers like Amazon, Newegg, and eBay and brick and mortar retailers like Lowes, Home Depot, Macy’s, Best Buy, Walmart, Sears, K-mart, and many others. Customers also list sites such as CNET and Consumer Reports that primarily focus on professional reviews but also contain customer review content. Apparently, as customer reviews spread over the internet, the definition of customer rating and review sites is becoming blurrier.


How Much Do People Use Dedicated Review Sites? Less than You Might Expect

Have you posted a review at a rating site in the past year? Our data show that only about one in ten people post at the most popular review sites. Not only that, but a large percentage of people (41%) reported that they had not even visited a customer review and rating site in the past two years.

In a smaller separate study we asked people who did not read or post at review sites why they chose not to do so. While there were only about 400 responses in this study, the reasons for not participating at reviews sites could be roughly grouped into the following categories (listed in decreasing order of frequency of mention):

  • General lack of interest
  • Didn’t want to take the time to do it
  • Concerns about privacy issues
  • Not having experiences to post about
  • Not being asked to post

Zagat LogoIn our larger study of 3,404 respondents, we also asked people to tell us about their reading and posting activities at 13 high-profile rating sites. These sites consisted of general review sites (e.g., Yelp, Google+, Citysearch), travel-related sites (e.g., TripAdvisor, Hotels.com), restaurant sites (e.g., Open Table, Urbanspoon) and automotive dealer rating sites (e.g., Edmunds, DealerRater). Below are the percentages of all respondents who read reviews and posted reviews on each site in the past year.

Reading and Posting Activity by Site

As can be seen in the chart, about 25% to 30% of all respondents read reviews at least a few times in the past year at the top four sites (TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Yelp, and Priceline) but less than 10% posted reviews at least a few times. Also, some sites had extremely low review reading and posting rates. For instance, only one percent or less of our respondents said they read reviews at least a few times at DealerRater or Room Key, and even fewer posted reviews.

Trip AdvisorPart of the reason these percentages are lower than expected may have to do with what was discussed previously in this paper. Customers are going to all sorts of places, including retailer sites, to read and post reviews. As more and more customer review content becomes available at a wide variety of sites, and as more reviews are “served up” when doing general searches on companies and products (as is the case with Google), sites dedicated to customer reviews may become obsolete.


While still important, we may be seeing the beginning of a change in the importance of dedicated customer review sites. As customer reviews become even more available across the internet, people’s reliance on and use of dedicated customer review sites may lessen.

Also, most marketers and market researchers think visiting customer review sites is part of the “research phase” of the buying cycle. However, it may move much closer to the actual purchase stage as more online retail sites (and some brick and mortar locations like Best Buy) show customer ratings and reviews. This may diminish the importance of dedicated rating sites.

What does this mean for marketers and market researchers who want to use review site information? First, we need to think beyond the big dedicated review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Second, when it comes down to it, rating site reviews are read by a fairly small percentage of consumers and the reviews contained there are generated by an even smaller sample of users. We need to keep this in mind when assessing the quality of information presented at these sites.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Chris Travell
Chris Travell is VP, Strategic Consulting for the Automotive Group of Maritz Research. He is responsible for working with Maritz' Insight Teams to further the understanding and application of the firm's automotive research. He has appeared on numerous television programs and is often quoted in Automotive News, Time, USA Today, Edmunds, Detroit Free Press, The Globe and Mail and various other publications in regard to issues related to the North American automotive industry. He is the principal contributor to The Ride Blog, Maritz Research's automotive blog.


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