If you laugh at an Amazon review, are you more more likely to buy something?

Have you ever laughed at your computer or phone screen while reading a review for a straightforward product on Amazon?

Maybe due to the “Wolf Moon Shirt” that went viral in 2009, or due to the banana slicer, a product for which there was no demand (“For decades I tried to find an ideal way to slice a banana,” reads one top review).

Maybe it's due to the flap book “Where's Baby's Belly Button?” (One popular review reads: “DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK, you can SEE the ending right on the cover!”) Or due to the sugar-free gummy bears, which reviewers said caused severe stomach upsets (“Cheaper than a colonoscopy!” wrote one.)

Sunil Wattal, associate dean for research and doctoral programs on the Temple Fox School of Business, and Susan Mudambi wanted to search out out what influence these pseudo-reviews have on consumers' online shopping behavior. In collaboration with professors from the University of Virginia and the University of New Hampshire, they published their findings in a recent study titled “Not Just for Fun: The Impact of Pseudo-Reviews on Consumer Behavior.”

“The study was fun because we laughed a lot,” said Mudambi, professor emeritus of selling. “Researchers don't usually laugh a lot about their research projects.”

For the study, greater than 250 people read real Amazon reviews that were either pseudo-positive, pseudo-negative, true-positive, or true-negative and indicated how likely they were to buy the item based on the review. Then one other 180 participants checked out product reviews that were either all real or all pseudo.

All participants were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk, an internet service commonly utilized in academic research, and were compensated for his or her time reading reviews of products chosen by the researchers based on their popularity, as measured by the variety of reviews.

The researchers found that pseudo-reviews can each increase and reduce sales, depending on the context. While a real negative review might dissuade you from buying a product, a pseudo-negative review might entice you to purchase it only for fun.

Here's what researchers wish to inform you about pseudoreviews.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: What prompted you to take a look at the reviews?

Mudambi: We began this almost 10 years ago. There were hundreds of reviews of this silly t-shirt with three wolves barking on the moon. It went viral for some time. That got us pondering: why do people trouble to review something in a humorous way?

Wattal: People have been writing reviews for a very long time, but actually they weren't real reviews. They were just people attempting to be funny. They were popular and folks were reading them. The undeniable fact that the platform even allowed these reviews was fascinating to us.

Q: What are the explanations behind these exaggerated criticisms?

Mudambi: Erin, can I ask, have you ever ever written a review on Amazon?

Q: I actually don't think I even have that.

Mudambi: And have you ever ever read reviews on Amazon?

Q: Oh yes, on a regular basis.

Mudambi: I even have a category of 40 students and everybody raises their hand in the event that they've read reviews. Generally 0 to 1 have actually written a review. So it's an even bigger query: who writes these reviews that we depend on? And with funny reviews, it's a smaller subset, however the motivation may very well be similar: They're attempting to make a reputation for themselves. Or they only have way an excessive amount of time on their hands.

Q: Is it all the time obvious that it’s a pseudo review?

Wattal: Such assessments are clearly exaggerated. No one would really imagine that a number of gummy bears would provide you with such bad stomach problems, or that drinking milk or buying a T-shirt would provide you with superpowers. There are some grey areas, but for probably the most part people will realize that somebody is just being silly.

Q: How do these rankings influence consumer decisions?

Mudambi: We often find that with the negative pseudo-reviews, some persons are more more likely to buy the product since it's so funny or controversial. Because again, a negative, funny review will not be really a negative review within the sense of an actual review. They say, “I'm giving this shirt one star because every time I wear it, I get attacked by people who want to date me or kiss me.” Is that basically a negative review?

Wattal: The impact of the review's rating is somewhat mitigated by the humor. If it’s a positive pseudo-review, the impact is way smaller in comparison with a positive real review.

Q: What are your key insights for consumers?

Mudambi: Consumers must be wary of reviews which are too positive or too negative. My other takeaway is that online reviews are a superb place to start out for those who're searching for some harmless humor. But don't take yourself, the products, or the reviews too seriously.

Wattal: Don't take anything at face value. On the opposite hand, it's a possibility. If you're searching for a present on your friend and something goes viral with all these fake reviews, you may as well buy it. Chances are it'll get numerous laughs at a celebration.


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