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Consumer behavior : why do we leave online reviews?

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On the occasion of the RecSys 2017 conference I was fortunate to attend Prof. Lowenstein‘s inaugural talk that offered an inspiring overview of behavioral economics applied to recommendation systems. In particular Prof. Lowenstein explored the psychology of information sharing which is crucial in data science because it relies so heavily on users’ ratings (explicit feedback) to produce predictions.

 

The talk by Lowenstein was fascinating. It started with the picture of a toaster as an illustration of the life’s mysteries that still need to get explained. Indeed, Lowenstein pointed, why are there so many people willing to review such a common and unexciting device as a toaster ? And in particular why are there so many people writing “average” reviews. While reviews (and customer feedback in general) are usually driven by emotions (either negative or positive) this piece of simple technology doesn’t look like it triggers a lot of emotions. Yet many people left a feedback. How can we explain that ?

 

Why do people share their views on Internet ?

 

Lowenstein proposed a set of 4 reasons to explain why consumers share their opinion online.

  1. reciprocity with (or revenge on) providers : this is typically the very bad or very good comment you’ll read on a provider. It’s driven by positive or negative emotions. Either the customer was very dissatisfied and he leaves a very bad comment to retaliate ; or he was very satisfied and leaves a very good comment to reciprocate. This is typically what you observe on platform like Airbnb where hosts try to trigger this kind of behavior by being especially nice (either online or in person) to their “clients” to trigger this kind of reciprocity.
  2. showing off sophistication (bragging) : Ronny Lempel (Outbrain), on day 4 of the RecSys 2017 conference, showed how consumed items differed from shared items. Top consumed items belong to the following categories : adult, hardware, sex, crime, celebrities, computers, fashion. Top shared items were very different : house improvement, education, wine, books, arts, … In other words people consume items for their pleasure and recommend items for their social image.
  3. influencing others : the 3rd reason somewhat derives from the 2nd. The act of sharing also aims at influencing others. People like to know that they have been read, liked, followed and that others have followed their advice. Have you ever been curious of many “likes” you got of a recent review you left of an hotel you had stayed in ?
  4. being noticed : for those in desperate need of attention, sharing content is a way to feel less lonely. This however can take dramatic dimensions especially in the age of social media. Social media users taking unprecedented risks or even getting killed to “make the buzz” are the mirror of our times. The most dramatic story I can think of is this girl who accidentally killed her boyfriend while trying to boost his social account.

 

Conclusion

 

Why people share online what they share remains sometimes a mystery. But these explicit feedback are extremely important for machine learning specialists. From a consumer behavior perspective 4 reasons explain the act of the sharing : reciprocity, bragging, influencing, being noticed.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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