Negative customer reviews online may have a much smaller effect than previously believed, according to new research into consumer choice conducted at the University of East London. According to Volker Thoma, who led the research, consumers ultimately still pick popular brands over lesser known names, even if the famous brands have negative reviews.
“It is not that people ignore negative information completely, as a higher percentage of famous products were chosen (over 80 percent) when the information was positive rather than negative,” says Thoma. “We also find that people take longer to make decisions when the ratings are negative for famous products. Yet in the majority of cases (65 percent). they ultimately select the famous brand even if it is rated unfavorably compared to an unknown brand.”
People were asked to repeatedly make a choice between two brands of a product category: a Canon camera and a camera from a lesser known brand. Importantly, the brands appeared with fictional star ratings indicating “consumer feedback” so as to render the famous product as either superior or inferior to the unknown brand. The results of the study showed that subjects’ choices were overwhelmingly based on brand recognition, even in spite of negative ratings.
According to the researchers at UEL, the results of the study point to a double effect of brand recognition. Recognizing the brand leads to a fast involuntary judgment, which is usually positive, as much previous research has observed. When then considering additional information, recognition is still a strong cue that competes—and often wins over—other indicators such as previous customer ratings.