When it comes to reviews which matters more, stars or reviews themselves? We set out to answer this question & you may be surprised by the results!

Recently, ConsumerAffairs data scientist Sean Guillory, PhD, set out to answer a question everyone on our team was eager to know: Is review content or star-rating more important to consumers when deciding on a purchase?

With so many brands on the defense about negative star-ratings across some third-party review sites, the answer may be surprising.

Stars matter, but content matters more

The results of our study provided consistent and overwhelming evidence that with information being equal, the quality and sentiment of the review content is what drives a person’s ability to trust a brand and increases the intent to purchase. Even when attaching a 5-star rating to bad reviews, or a 1-star review to positive reviews, or even when there are no stars on the page, the brands with positive customer review content are the ones that consumers prefer to purchase from.

The prioritization of content over star rating is in line with many of the conversations our team discussed before initiating our research. Ratings are often relative to accommodation of personal needs, and one person’s one-star experience could indicate to another consumer that the experience may be able to solve their need efficiently. Long pants getting a 3-star review may give a taller customer the 5-star fit they’ve been looking for. Consumers self-educating during the research process, and richer content provides the information needed to make smarter decisions.

Now this isn’t to say that star ratings are not important to consumers. On multiple post-test measures, star measures repeatedly get included in the top two page items considered (even ranked above pictures of the item and if the product is on sale). Still, multiple tests indicated that star ratings by themselves cannot overcome review content, with the most dramatic example being that participants would rather purchase from a 1-star rated product with great reviews vs. a 5-star product with terrible reviews. In short, reviewers are actually taking the time to look at the content to make purchase decisions, so content in reviews can no longer be ignored.

The bottom line is that the results from the four studies we conducted show that consumers consistently prefer reviews with good content over a “5-star fake” review.

Accommodate consumer needs

Knowing more trust is placed in quality review content, brands need to invest in more opportunities to collect feedback across a broad, unbiased sampling of customers. Using a third-party, transparent, and verifiable approach to gathering quality review content benefits brands in several ways:

  • Customer insights help prospective customers identify key features to find best fit for products or services
  • Improved education about products helps connect with ideal customers to reduce churn
  • Memorialized customer feedback helps current customers resolve their own issues before reaching out to the brand
  • Memorialized engagement in response to quality review content helps increase trust among researching consumers
  • With more than just star ratings, brands are perceived as more trustworthy

Find out more in our full report. To learn about additional ways ConsumerAffairs helps brands connect with consumers online, download our free guide to using social proof in your marketing strategy.