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Encourage comparisons in your reviews

Compared to normal reviews, positive comparative reviews increase sales by up to 26% and negative comparative reviews are up to 47% less harmful.

Topics: Reviews
For: B2C
Research date: November 2023
Universities: Tianjin University, Virginia Tech, and Nankai University

📝 Intro

Imagine you’re trying to buy a new laptop. The more research you do, the more confused you become, as you struggle to understand what you actually need in terms of RAM, ROM, processing speed, screen resolution, and a myriad of other technical details.

You’re looking through reviews to try and make sense of things, but are struggling. An online review from David says Laptop A has a great battery, while Debbie says the same in her review about Laptop B. But which one is better?

After much more scrolling, you finally come across Nijat’s review who after trying both, says that Laptop B’s battery worked better than Laptop A. Finally, a review that tells you exactly what you need!

You’re not alone. New research shows just how important comparisons are in reviews, and why you should encourage comparisons in the reviews of your products.

P.S.: You can easily increase the number and positivity of your reviews by replying to all reviews you receive (no matter whether they are positive or negative).

📈 Recommendation

Encourage reviewers to compare your product to other alternatives or competitors (e.g. “How was it compared to a similar product you’ve tried?”). People who read the review will be more likely to buy your product.

Positive comparisons (e.g. Detergent A gets stains out better than Detergent B) are more effective than stand-alone positive reviews (e.g. Detergent A is great at removing stains from my kid’s clothes).

In contrast, negative comparisons (e.g. Detergent A doesn’t make my clothes as soft as Detergent B) have less of a negative impact than regular negative reviews (e.g. Detergent A doesn’t make my clothes soft). 

🎓 Findings

  • Reviews comparing products (e.g. I like Item A more than Item B because of…) drive sales better than regular reviews (e.g. I love Item A’s …) when positive, and are less harmful when negative.

  • In an analysis of 58,481 reviews of 60 mobile phone models and a controlled lab experiment, researchers found that:

    • Positive comparative reviews (e.g. Phone A is better than Phone B because…) increased sales 26.5% more than regular reviews (e.g. Phone A is great because…)

    • A negative comparative review is 46.9% less harmful than a regular negative review

    • People were

      • 22.7% more likely to buy a laptop after reading a positive comparative review (vs a normal positive review)

      • 18.3% more likely to buy a laptop after reading a negative comparative review (vs a normal negative review)

🧠 Why it works

  • We use online reviews to help us form an opinion about a product and decide whether to buy it.

  • When we see a comparative review, it seems more certain and conveys greater power. We also think the reviewer knows the topic better, as they’d need experience to be able to compare items.

  • Since we consider comparative reviews to be more engaging, credible, and persuasive, we follow these reviews more, making their impact on sales greater.

  • A regular negative review (e.g. Phone A has a low battery life) highlights a shortcoming in the product and leads us to avoid the risk of facing the issue if we buy the product. A negative comparative review (e.g. Phone A’s battery isn’t as good as Phone B’s), shows a comparison, but not necessarily an issue with the product itself, leading to less of a negative reaction.

Limitations

  • The research focused on mobile phones and laptops. While similar dynamics should exist for reviews of non-tech products, this hasn’t been tested yet.

  • The status of the person leaving the review (e.g. a badge indicating a pro vs. first-time user, or a verified account or influencer) as well as their tone and language would also impact the credibility of the review they leave, though this hasn’t been tested here.

  • The study was on reviews in China. The impact of others’ opinions is likely different in different cultural settings. For example, whether an item is a bestseller tends to play a larger role in decision-making in Western cultures compared to a product’s rating. 

🏢 Companies using this

  • Roughly 10% of online reviews include comparisons, but companies don’t seem to proactively ask for them.

  • Many e-commerce platforms, from Amazon to Tmall to Alibaba offer Q&A options and comment sections for customers to discuss products, allowing them to make comparisons. Some, like Best Buy, also show product comparisons to easily compare features of similar products.

Capterra includes a section for users to compare ratings for similar products but does not encourage users to make comparisons in its review writing tips.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • Encourage your customers to compare your product to others when they write a review. For example:

    • Ask them in the review prompting questions to explain “How do Product A’s features rate against Product B?”

    • In the placeholder text of the review box, you can include sentences like “I liked [product] better than [other product] because …”

    • If you’ve launched a new version of your product, you can specifically ask “How does Product 2.0 compare to the original?”

  • Since the first review people read is usually the most influential, highlight reviews including words or phrases like “compared to X”, “more than” or “less than” to make your comparative reviews more prominent.

  • Don’t be afraid of comparative negative reviews, especially if they’re irrelevant. Not only are these less harmful than non-comparative negative reviews but including an irrelevant negative review puts your product in a better light.

🔍 Study type

Lab experiment and market observation (analysis of 58,481 reviews across 60 mobile phones on a Chinese ecommerce marketplace)

📖 Research

The Effects of Comparative Reviews on Product Sales. Journal of Interactive Marketing (November 2023)

🏫 Researchers

  • Min Zhang. College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University

  • Yuzhuo Li. College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University

  • Lin Sun. College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University

  • G. Alan Wang. Pamplin College of Business. Virginia Tech

  • Jiangang Du. Nankai University

Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.