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Take online reviews with a pinch of salt, says study

PUBLISHED: 11:50 05 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:33 05 November 2018

Norfolk chef Charlie Hodson Picture: ADAM LIVINGSTONE/WOODFORDES

Norfolk chef Charlie Hodson Picture: ADAM LIVINGSTONE/WOODFORDES

Adam Livingstone/Woodfordes

A new UEA study says online reviewers are less negative after a period of time

A new University of East Anglia study has found that online reviews of hotels, cars and even books should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are influenced by the reviewers’ current psychological state.

Norwich Business School researchers analyzed more than 215,000 online reviews for 10,22 London hotels, provided on TripAdvisor and Booking.com from visitors from 90 countries.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, concluded that online reviews were read with a healthy dose of scepticism or a ‘pinch of salt.’

Norfolk chef, charity fund-raiser and Norfolk Day ambassador Charlie Hodson told how the impact of websites such as TripAdvisor and bookings.com was akin to cyberbullying and ‘destroys lives.’

Our own online survey also revealed that more than 60 per cent of readers believed that online review sites should be monitored.

“People have time and cognitive constraints that regulate their decisions, and compared to conventional transactions in brick-and-mortar stores, their ability to directly evaluate the product quality is much more limited when buying online,” said lead author Panagiotis Stamolampros, a Ph.D. researcher from Norwich Business School.

“This is where online reviews come in as a tool to potentially reduce customers’ risk and uncertainty and to help them make the correct product choice. However, the question remains, should online reviews be trusted?”

The research shows that the length of time between product or service consumption and posting is one factor that often affects the review.

For example, the sooner customers post a review the more they tend to “zoom-in” on their experience, focusing on the more concrete aspects, even on small details, and the more negative they are. As the time increases, however, reviewers ‘zoom-out’ and give a more positive view, focusing instead on the general experience and more abstract aspects.

“You get people who say they had a lovely meal, give you a generous tip and you go home feeling like you and your team gave an amazing service,” he said “You’ve spoken to them, they’ve seemed happy but then they annihilate you. I just don’t understand it.

Chef Charlie Hodson said that online reviewers don’t realise the impact it’s having on people in the industry’s mental health.

“What some people leave on there is killing people in the hospitality world, and that’s not a false claim.”

He said when the website TripAdvisor first began, it was initially welcomed by those in the industry.

“When we first saw TripAdvisor, so many of us thought it would be a really constructive way to see where the best roast lunch is, where the best seafood, where the best sea view is,” he said. “But it’s just mind-numbing to see the impact it is having.

The researchers also found that with services such as hotels – the focus of the study – that the geographical distance between the hotel and the visitor’s country of residence, as well as the cultural differences between the countries, can also influence how they rate their experience.

The researchers found the greater the distance between the home country of the reviewer and the country visited, the more positive the rating.

“We believe this is to do with the feeling that the more distant you are from your point of reference, which is connected with all the petty annoyances that you have to deal with in daily life, the more positive you are,” said Stamolampros.

However, in the case of cultural distance, the relationship is the reverse. “Distance does not always lend enchantment to the view. People like the idea of visiting different cultures but do not always tolerate surprises,” said co-author Dr. Nikolaos Korfiatis.

The authors say the findings have implications for both consumers and managers. They recommend that consumers should look for reviews from people who are culturally close to them, as they will be more representative of what to expect.

“People will continue to buy products and services online as faster, cheaper delivery processes are developed, and easy return and refund processes reduce the risk. As such, people will continue to consult online reviews when making their decisions,” said Stamolampros.

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