On-line cosmetic product reviews: a help or a hindrance?

Written on 25 July 2014.

With the growth of the internet both as a distribution and communication medium, retailers consider that displaying online consumer reviews is one of the most effective tools to convert product intentions into sales. Market research amongst e-commerce consumers highlights the power of online reviews: 77% of online customers will read online consumer reviews before a purchase and 91% consider them as the most important criterion to the purchase of products online. However, due to the scarcity of research on consumer reviews, the mechanisms through which reviews affect product purchases and post-experience performance judgments are largely unknown.

This research, published in the June 2014 edition of the European Journal of Marketing conducted by Marie-Cécile Cervellon, from EDHEC Business School in France and Lindsey Carey from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland investigates the influence of on-line reviews for cosmetic products which have both utilitarian (functional and performance related) and hedonic (sensorial and experiential) properties and/or ethical credentials (organic vs non-organic). Utilitarian properties can further be subdivided into ambiguous (e.g. prevention-focused properties) and un-ambiguous (e.g. quality/price value). The findings are supplemented by a further study relating to a different context, herbal tea (fairtade vs non fairtrade).

Overall, these findings indicate that consumers learn from product experience for hedonic properties and unambiguous utilitarian properties but when evidence of product performance is ambiguous, external sources of information such as consumer reviews might be considered more indicative than product testing. Furthermore, results signpost that the ethical (organic/fair-trade) credentials make products more resistant to negative on-line consumer reviews in addition to lowering consumer expectations for the product’s utilitarian properties. There were also trends observed in reviews for products which are dominantly utilitarian, especially when the utilitarian properties are difficult to judge (i.e. anti-aging); the first review sets the tone and subsequent evaluations are strongly influenced by the preceding reviews.

By making consumers test products in good conditions early in their life cycle, brands might encourage a positive dynamic in consumers’ on-line posts. The careful and controlled sampling of new or emerging products through consumer test websites could be a powerful tool to create a positive trend of reviews among consumers. Ethical brands should also prioritise their products’ ethical credentials in their communication and advertising strategy to take advantage of the resistance to negative on-line reviews which is afforded by consumers to such product categories.

This study can be downloaded by clicking on the following link:

Sustainable, hedonic and efficient: interaction effects between product properties and consumer reviews on post-experience responses

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