How the first review decides the fate of your product

A negative first online review creates a chain reaction of fewer sales, fewer reviews, and more negative reviews. The opposite happens if the first review is positive.

Welcome new joiners, we have just crossed 3,000 evidence-based marketers! Thank you for being here and for your amazing support.

New here? Join below for 3min marketing tips 💡 based on research 🎓 to grow your company 📈

The same products on different online marketplaces often have very different reviews (see examples below - click to zoom in).

Why does this happen? The authors of today’s research found that one of the key drivers is whether the first review a product receives is positive or negative.


Try to manage your product’s first online review

Impacted metrics: Reviews
Channels: Marketplaces | Ecommerce sales | Website/app
For: B2C

Tip type: New research (February 2021)
Previous tip: How feedback surveys can boost spending by 131% (All tips here)

Recommendation

Do everything you ethically can to receive a first online review that’s positive, rather than negative. For example:

  • Before launch, tease your product to a select group of customers that you believe will rate it highly (e.g. they have a strong need for it or love your brand). Inform them as soon as it’s available so they’re likely to be the first ones to review it.

  • As soon as you list your new product on a marketplace (e.g. Amazon, Taobao), inform a few happy previous customers from other channels (e.g. your own ecommerce site) that they can buy it there, and you’d love a review if they do.

  • Personally reach out to early customers that you think have enjoyed your product to ask them to write a review about it. This may not be possible on marketplaces like Amazon when you don’t have direct contact with your customers.

If you do receive a negative first review, try to correct it immediately. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to reverse the negative long-term effect.

Effects

  • Whether a product’s first online review (e.g. on Amazon) is positive (e.g. 4-stars) or negative (e.g. 1-star) has a strong effect on:

    • The average rating of reviews after it. A negative first review encourages more negative reviews. A positive one leads to more positive ones. This gap shifts very slowly back to the ‘real’ quality of the product

    • How many reviews the product receives. If the first review is negative less people will buy the product, so less people can write a review. If it’s positive, more people buy it so more will review it. This chain reaction gets stronger over time

  • An analysis of products on Amazon and Best Buy found that:

    • One year after a negative first review, the average rating is 0.29 stars lower than it should be and there are 36.49 fewer reviews

    • The effects of the first review last for 36 months, possibly more

    • About 1 in 4 products receives a negative first review (based on 1,155 vacuum cleaner models)

  • Remember, negative reviews aren’t always bad. Some negative reviews are good for you if they’re largely irrelevant to the reader.

(The evolution of reviews over 12 months after a first positive [blue] or negative [red] review. Average rating on the left, number of reviews on the right - Click to zoom in)


New here? Subscribe for the latest marketing research from top business schools 🎓 in 3-min practical tips 📈 twice per week.


Why it works

  • Because a negative first review leads to more negative and fewer reviews, we assume the product isn’t good and we’re less likely to buy that product (and then write a review about it).

  • Seeing that most reviews of a product we bought are either positive or negative may bias how we actually experience and rate that product, no matter how we actually find it.

Limitations

  • The analysis was on products for which online reviews are particularly important (vacuum cleaners, toasters, and cameras) because they aren’t bought often and others’ opinions are given a lot of importance. The effect may be different for more complex products (e.g. B2B software), cheaper ones (e.g. groceries), or experiences.

  • The research focused on marketplaces. It’s unclear if the effect changes for online reviews on your own website or review websites (e.g. Trustpilot)

Companies using this

  • Companies are mostly aware of the importance of online reviews, but they don’t seem to understand how strong the impact of their products’ first online review is.

Steps to implement

  • Consider the listing of your product online as a crucial moment and prepare for it ahead of time to maximize the chances of getting a positive first review.

  • Apply the actions in the “Recommendation” section or test other ethical methods to encourage a first positive review.

  • Keep in mind that recent research found that giving products away for free for ‘testing’ in exchange for reviews doesn’t improve review ratings.


Study type

Market observation (analysis of reviews of 177 vacuum cleaners, 113 toasters, and 190 cameras on Amazon and Bestbuy over 3 years). United States and Canada

Research

Park, S., Shin, W., & Xie, J. (February 2021). The fateful first consumer review. Marketing Science.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina and Warrington College of Business, University of Florida. United States

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


Want to sponsor Ariyh, share feedback, or ask a question? -> Reach out at thomas@ariyh.com

New to Ariyh? -> Subscribe below or read previous evidence-based marketing tips here