Published: Sept. 16, 2016 By , ,

Abstract: This research documents a substantial disconnect between the objective quality information that online user ratings actually convey and the extent to which consumers trust them as indicators of objective quality. Analyses of a data set covering 1272 products across 120 vertically differentiated product categories reveal that average user ratings (1) lack convergence with Consumer Reports scores, the most commonly used measure of objective quality in the consumer behavior literature, (2) are often based on insufficient sample sizes that limits their informativeness, (3) do not predict resale prices in the used-product marketplace, and (4) are higher for more expensive products and premium brands, controlling for Consumer Reports scores. However, when forming quality inferences and purchase intentions, consumers heavily weight the average rating compared to other cues for quality like price and the number of ratings. They also fail to moderate their reliance on the average user rating as a function of sample size sufficiency. Consumers’ trust in the average user rating as a cue for objective quality appears to be based on an “illusion of validity.”

Keywords: online user ratings, quality inferences, consumer learning, brand image, price-quality heuristic