In the digital age, online reviews have become an integral part of consumers’ decision-making processes. These reviews provide valuable insights into products, services and businesses, enabling potential customers to make informed choices. However, a growing concern among consumers and businesses alike is the relevance and accuracy of reviews that are older than a few months. This article explores the dynamics of consumers’ perceptions regarding these older reviews, examining the factors that influence their trustworthiness, and offering insights into how businesses can navigate this challenge.
The Significance of Online Reviews
Online reviews have revolutionized the way consumers make decisions. They offer a glimpse into the experiences of previous customers, helping prospective buyers make more informed choices. In the annual study by BrightLocal, surveyors found that 98% of consumers read online reviews and 76% of people “always” or “regularly” read online reviews for local businesses. But users are more discerning than they used to be.
“Since 2010, we’ve seen significant developments in the perceptions of online reviews, the ways businesses engage customers to leave feedback, and the channels or platforms consumers choose to do it on,” according to BrightLocal. “While a simple star rating may have been enough to persuade potential customers back then, our findings over the years show that the most important review factors have evolved. This, plus an increasing savviness when it comes to detecting fake reviews, and shifting perceptions of different review platforms, makes for an ever-changing landscape.”
Positive reviews can be incredibly persuasive, as they create a sense of safety in numbers and signal that a product or service is well-liked and trustworthy. On the other hand, negative reviews can have just as much influence, as they create a sense of risk and uncertainty that can cause prospects to second guess or look for other options.
The impact of online reviews on a business’s reputation and bottom line cannot be overstated, making them a critical element in the marketing landscape.
The Aging Review Dilemma
While online reviews are undoubtedly valuable, the issue of their aging presents a conundrum for both consumers and businesses. Reviews older than a few months may not accurately reflect a business’s current performance or the quality of its products or services. Several factors can impact this perception:
Businesses evolve and change over time. New management, staff, products and services may result in a substantial shift in quality and customer experience—and consumers know this happens.
Many businesses, especially in the hospitality and tourism sectors, experience seasonal fluctuations in their performance. Older reviews might not account for these fluctuations. This holds true for other industries’ negative reviews as well. For example, if a customer had a horrible experience during peak demand or season for a business, that bad taste may not be consistent through the entire year, or reflect the overall quality of a product or service over time.
Speaking of time, some reviews may become less authentic. There are ways for businesses to manipulate reviews and older ones may be more susceptible to fraudulent activity. (For more on review hijacking, see this post from Consumer Reports. ) Also, through time, consumer preferences and expectations evolve. What was deemed acceptable a year ago may not be today.
Consumer Perceptions of Older Reviews
Consumer perceptions of older reviews are nuanced and influenced by various factors, including trustworthiness, skepticism, valuable insights and information relevance.
Consumers are generally skeptical of older reviews, as they may question the relevance and accuracy. They may perceive them as less trustworthy indicators of the current state of a business.
On the other hand, some consumers believe older reviews provide valuable historical context. (We want to sit next to these people on a night out!) They use them to gauge a business’s long-term performance trends.
Consumers may place greater importance on the content and context of older reviews. They look for information about the business’s overall reputation rather than specific details, such as whether a current product was sent quickly, or a customer had an unfortunate exchange with a service representative.
And while we’re talking consumers and their perception, it would be careless if consumer characteristics and online reviews in general were left unaddressed.
The psychographics of people who don’t trust online reviews encompass a diverse range of characteristics and attitudes. Their skepticism can be influenced by various factors and understanding these can shed light on their motivations and behaviors—and lead to better communication with customers and prospects.
Age and experience
Older individuals, particularly those less accustomed to digital platforms, often exhibit more skepticism towards online reviews. They may rely on traditional forms of information and recommendations, such as word of mouth. They don’t conflate WOM with a stranger’s review online. This is the group who may have a larger circle of information sources, too. Those who have access to alternative sources of information, such as industry-specific magazines or professional networks, often rely less on online reviews for decision-making.
Those who prefer to gather information in a more controlled and systematic manner, such as through expert opinions or official websites, might be less inclined to rely on user-generated content. Remember, this is not a demographic thing as much as it is a psychographic one. Age, income and education do not automatically mean customers prefer or dislike more controlled information. (Go to the psychos, not the demos when evaluating!)
A general distrust of online platforms or a tendency to view the internet with skepticism can be a significant factor. These individuals may believe that reviews can easily be manipulated or faked and their confirmation bias ties this down further when they see headlines about the prevalence of fake reviews, or hear others discuss it.
These individuals may have a greater fear of being deceived or taken advantage of. If they believe that businesses or competitors manipulate reviews to mislead consumers, they’re not here for it.
The cousins of cynicism, skepticism and suspicion, also lead some individuals to question the credibility of anonymous online reviewers. They might believe that people who are legitimate “show their face” and don’t hide behind pseudonyms and anonymity, or they believe reviewers have ulterior motives, such as being paid to write positive reviews, and question the legitimacy of online reviews.
Preference for in-person interaction
People who value face-to-face interactions and personal recommendations may be less likely to trust online reviews. They place more trust in the opinions of friends, family and experts they know personally. Those who trust online reviews transfer this trust more easily to internet feedback.
Bad personal experiences with online reviews, such as purchasing a product or service that did not live up to the review’s praise, can contribute to a lack of trust. Such experiences may make customers cautious about trusting reviews in the future. And it doesn’t take a big, dramatic burn to leave a scar.
Lack of technological proficiency
Individuals who are not tech-savvy or have limited access to the internet may find it more challenging to navigate online reviews and, consequently, may not trust them. Again, this doesn’t mean all old people. Access is still an issue. Just ask the 42 million Americans who still lack broadband.
OK, back to what businesses can do…
The Influence of Business Responses
One factor that significantly impacts consumer perceptions of older reviews is how businesses respond to them. Active engagement with older reviews can help build trust and credibility. Businesses can navigate this challenge in five distinct ways:
If a business has improved its products or services since receiving negative older reviews, they can acknowledge this transformation and share updates in their responses.
Businesses should engage with negative older reviews and demonstrate a commitment to addressing past issues. This proactive approach can reassure consumers about their dedication to quality.
Share recent feedback
In their responses to older reviews, businesses can also highlight recent positive feedback and improvements. This can counterbalance the negative perceptions of older reviews and can be a social proof that the business addressed issues. What’s the value of social proof?
“At their core, customer reviews are powerful because they tap into the psychology of social proof – the idea that people are heavily influenced by the opinions and behaviors of others,” according to European web platform service Market Tailor. “Customer reviews provide this social proof in a tangible, concrete form. By reading about the experiences of other customers, potential buyers are able to get a sense of whether a product or service will meet their needs and expectations.”
Encourage new reviews
Businesses can encourage satisfied customers to leave fresh reviews, which can help to offset the influence of older ones. Offering low-stakes incentives or making the review process more accessible can be effective strategies.
Demonstrating transparency in responses to older reviews can go a long way in building trust. Businesses can explain changes in their operations, policies or management, if applicable.
“Gone are the days where commercial advertising can sell a company on its own, and because of this, companies must invest time in integrating transparency into every aspect of their presence,” according to Entrepreneur. “This is becoming even more important in a B2B setting where frequently it’s a team of decision-makers that dictate a brand’s success.”
Strategies for Businesses
To effectively navigate consumer perceptions of older reviews, businesses can adopt several strategies, including delivering consistency and quality in products and services. The most fundamental strategy will naturally lead to better reviews over time.
Business should also encourage recent reviews. If companies actively encourage recent customers to leave reviews, especially when they’ve had a positive experience it helps to dilute the influence of older reviews.
It’s been said before, but monitor and respond. Regularly monitor reviews, including older ones, and respond thoughtfully and professionally to all reviews. This demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction and company transparency.
If a business has evolved in a remarkable way, highlight the changes. If a business has undergone significant changes that positively impacted its offerings, ensure these changes are well-documented in responses to older reviews.
A sweet spot for online reviews is when a business can leverage user-generated content. When businesses encourage customers to share their experiences on social media, this user-generated content can provide real-time insights and counterbalance older reviews. Oh, and there’s that social proof again.
Don’t miss an opportunity to educate customers and prospects. Businesses can also enlighten customers about the potential discrepancies in older reviews, emphasizing that they might not reflect the current state of the business.
“53% of customers expect businesses to respond to negative feedback within one week. Timely and empathetic responses to negative reviews can mitigate damage and show a business’s commitment to customer satisfaction,” according to TrustPulse. “56% of consumers change their perspective on a business based on how the business responded to a review.” And responses can include friendly doses of customer education.
Consumer perceptions of online reviews that have aged for months are shaped by trustworthiness, skepticism and the perceived relevance of the information. Businesses must understand these perceptions and actively engage with older reviews to build trust, address concerns and demonstrate a commitment to quality.
By consistently delivering quality products and services, encouraging recent reviews and being transparent in their responses, businesses can navigate the challenge of aging reviews and maintain a positive online reputation.
If you’re curious about the power of digital reputation management, particularly online reviews, call or email. Let’s have a conversation.
Online reviews help consumers make informed choices by providing insights from previous customers.
According to BrightLocal, 76% of people “always” or “regularly” read online reviews for local businesses.
Older reviews may not accurately reflect a business’s current performance due to changes in management, seasonal fluctuations, and evolving consumer preferences.
Factors such as trustworthiness, skepticism, and the relevance of information impact how consumers view older reviews.
Older individuals less accustomed to digital platforms and those who value in-person recommendations often exhibit more skepticism towards online reviews.
Businesses can acknowledge improvements, address concerns, share recent feedback, encourage new reviews, and demonstrate transparency in their responses to older reviews.
Social proof, the idea that people are influenced by the opinions and behaviors of others, plays a crucial role in the impact of online reviews on consumer decisions.