Patrick De Pelsmacker
In two studies, we investigate how consumers cope with online reviews that are in conflict with each other. Using a 2 (review set balance: positive, negative) x 2 (review source: expert, non-expert) x 2 (review content: coherent, incoherent) experimental design, the first study investigates how readers process information when they are faced with conflicting reviews and the extent to which people use consensus heuristics (both in terms of valence and content) and source heuristics to form an impression and purchase intention. Using a 2 (valence of expert review: positive, negative) x 2 (content of expert review: coherent, incoherent) experimental design, the second study further investigates the role of expert sources and conflicting review information for impression formation and purchase intention in neutrally balanced review sets. Results indicate a strong presence of a consensus heuristic: a positive balance generates a significantly better review impression and purchase intention than a negative balance. Furthermore, our results also suggest a double discounting phenomenon: a review is more likely to be discounted when it comes from an expert and/or when the content of the review is not coherent with the rest of the reviews in the set. Implications and suggestions for further research are formulated.