The Reputation Economy

Tales from the Land of Consumer Reviews: Taking a Closer Look at Lurkers and Writers

Alexander Mafael and Sabrina Gottschalk


Online Reviews, Information Processing, Decision-making, Electronic Word-of-Mouth

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Reviews – omnipresent and highly influential
Online reviews are one of the most influential sources of decision-relevant information for modern consumers. They contain descriptions of other consumers’ consumption experiences and thereby provide a glimpse into the potential advantages and disadvantages of products and services. Reviews tend to be trusted and are present in virtually every context and on all devices, influencing consumers every step of the way. While most consumers routinely read online reviews to inform their purchase decisions, the number of consumers who actively post reviews is astonishingly small. According to the “90-9-1” rule of thumb, only 1% of users frequently contribute content, 9% contribute a bit, and 90% are simply lurkers who read but do not write. Given the enormous impact of reviews (see Box 1), it is worthwhile taking a closer look at how consumers process the abundance of reviews and how and why some individuals strike the keys to report their experiences.

How consumers handle review overload
Online review information is available in abundance. A typical hotel on Tripadvisor, such as the Hilton Hotel London Kensington, has accumulated over 5,000 reviews. Other rich information cues, like aggregate statistics, information about the author, or helpfulness ratings, accompany these review texts. How do consumers find their way in this information jungle and how do they reduce the immense information load to make a decision? We conducted several studies to explore these questions and found that consumers apply different processing strategies and do not proceed in a uniform manner.

  • Consumers process online review information selectively
    Rather than looking at all available review information, consumers deliberately regard or disregard certain information cues. While some focus primarily on “positive” and “negative” reviews while ignoring “mediocre” ones, others focus on “online review headlines” or “helpfulness ratings” as the most telling cues. Respondents’ perceptions of the value of different informational cues for their own decision-making is oftentimes very pronounced and reflects rather stable patterns.
  • Groups of consumers employ distinct processing strategies
    We identified distinct types of review users who employ different strategies. For example, one group of review users, which we named “The Efficients“, focused on cues that helped them retrieve information quickly, without expending much time or effort. They searched short, timely, and helpful reviews while disregarding “additional” cues like review author information. In contrast, “The Meticulous” group processed a wider variety of review cues to get a deeper understanding of the products or services. They disregarded short reviews, which may not provide enough depth of information.


Alexander Mafael, Assistant Professor in Retail Management, Center for Retailing, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, alexander.mafael@hhs.se
Sabrina Gottschalk, Lecturer in Marketing, Cass Business School, City, University of London, UK, sabrina.gottschalk@city.ac.uk

Further Reading

Babić Rosario, A.; Sotgiu, F.; de Valck, K.; & Bijmolt, T.H.A. (2016): “The Effect of Electronic Word of Mouth on Sales: A Meta-Analytic Review of Platform, Product, and Metric Factors”, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 53 (3), 297-318.

Gottschalk, S.A. & Mafael, A. (2017): “Cutting Through the Online Review Jungle –Investigating Selective eWOM Processing”, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Vol. 37, 89-104.

Mafael, A. (2019): “How Regulatory Orientation and Feelings of Gratitude Shape Online Review Helpfulness”, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 29 (4), 601-622.

Mafael, A.; Gottschalk, S.A.; & Kreis, H. (2016): “Examining Biased Assimilation in Brand-related Online Reviews”, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Vol. 36, 91-106.