Gone are the days when people asked for recommendations from friends and family and experts such as travel counselors when deciding where to travel, stay or dine. The advent of web 2.0 resulted in weblogs and review websites, altering how people make these decisions. Online review websites—which aggregate comments to summarize the evaluation of the product, star ratings (or thumbs up or down), votes on how helpful a review is perceived to be and the reviewer’s profile information—are especially useful for many audiences, especially younger consumers.
Because anyone can provide online reviews, the volume of spam content and false information has increased, calling into question the quality of this user-generated content. The credibility of the source, measured by the review writer’s perceived trustworthiness or expertise, is another concern when it comes to determining the quality of the review. Past research has found that hospitality managers confessed to manipulating reviews and ratings regularly and actively. The quality of the website publishing the reviews can also impact the perceived quality of the information.
Restaurants should be concerned about what determines if a review is useful or not because review readers are more likely to act on a review (i.e., visit a restaurant or not if they perceive a review to be useful). Due to lack of research in the area of what determines if an online review is useful, especially restaurant reviews, Kent State University researchers Saba Salehi-Esfahani, Swathi Ravichandran, Aviad Israeli and Edward Bolden conducted research to determine the relationship between: (1) review extremeness (positive or negative) and the perceived usefulness of online reviews; (2) source credibility and perceived usefulness of online reviews; (3) website quality and information adoption tendencies; and (4) perceived usefulness of online reviews and information adoption tendencies, or behavior.
Data were collected through an online survey of millennial students as this population is more likely to use online reviews to make purchase decisions compared to older consumers. The survey questions were based on what respondents saw in screen captures from a simulated restaurant review website. The reviews included eight scenarios incorporating various levels of positive/negative reactions written by reviewers with different levels of expertise.
Among findings from the study:
• The more negative the review, the more useful it was perceived to be. Hence, it is essential that restaurant managers constantly read and respond to negative reviews. That said, it’s even more important for restaurants to make the required changes to reduce these negative comments. A proper response to online negative reviews reduces the potential damage of discouraging future customers and increases the likelihood that the review writer gives the company a second chance.
• The perceived trustworthiness and expertise of the review writer had a significant and positive correlation to how useful the review was perceived to be. This finding suggests that restaurant managers should highlight reviews that are reasoned to be credible (i.e., high in expertise and trustworthiness). This may be indicated by a large number of “thumbs up” signs or other indicators.
• Website quality was found to have a significant positive relationship with information adoption. The important role of website information quality suggests that restaurant marketers and designers of restaurant review websites focus on designing the website in such a way that it prompts review writers to offer constructive, factual information and incorporate examples to support the praises or the criticism.
• Lastly, as expected, how useful a review was perceived to be was positively related to the likelihood that a consumer would dine at a specific restaurant.
Complete study results are available at the Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management website.