A university study finds that while the general assumption is that an abundance of helpful reviews — whether positive or negative — is ultimately more influential in driving purchases, anger in negative reviews is not helpful.

Across six laboratory experiments, researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of South Florida found that angry reviews are typically discounted by consumers as less helpful than non-angry reviews, but they counterintuitively influence consumers’ attitudes and choices to a greater extent.

“Platforms usually use helpfulness-based sorting to order reviews, presumably because of the assumption that ‘helpful’ reviews are more persuasive in shaping customer decisions,” said Han Zhang, a professor at Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. “However, we provide an emotion-based exception to this assumption and suggest that sorting based solely on helpfulness votes may be less effective than intended.”

The findings highlight the importance of monitoring reviews on a regular basis and acting as quickly as possible to address angry reviews.

For e-commerce platforms, providing instructions or advice, such as encouraging reviewers to take their time and provide real data to back up their claims, was suggested to reduce the number of angry reviews.

Prof. Zhang explained, “The notion that ‘too much anger’ can reduce the perceived value of a review is reflected in guidelines of some review platforms: e.g., guidelines at TripAdvisor (2019) explicitly discourage reviewers from ‘ranting.’ Given that participants in our studies consistently perceived angry reviews as ‘irrational’ and ‘unhelpful,’ this advice appears sound.”

Previous research has shown that the quantity of reviews can be more important in driving conversion than the quality because volume makes the business appear more trustworthy and authoritative.  Recency was also found to be a critical review factor. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey from 2020 found 73 percent of respondents indicating reviews must be from the last month to influence their choice to use a local business.

Negative reviews, according to university research that appeared last year in the Journal of Marketing, can also be helpful. When perceived as unfair, negative reviews can activate feelings of empathy toward firms that have been wronged, and can be leveraged to drive empathy from consumers reading reviews.


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