High-quality reviews improve product sales
A review that is well-written tends to inspire confidence about the product, even if the review is negative. Typically such reviews are perceived as objective and thorough. So, if we have a high-quality, but negative, review this may serve as a guarantee that the negative aspects of the product are not that bad after all. For example, a negative review such as " horrible battery life... in my tests battery lasts barely longer than 24 hours..." may be perceived as positive by other customers that consider a 24-hour batter life to be more than sufficient.
In our recent ( award-winning) WWW2011 paper "Towards a Theory Model for Product Search", we noticed that demand for a hotel increases if the online reviews on TripAdvisor and Travelocity are well-written, without spelling errors; this holds no matter if the review is positive or negative. In our TKDE paper "Estimating the Helpfulness and Economic Impact of Product Reviews: Mining Text and Reviewer Characteristics", we observed similar trends for products sold and reviewed on Amazon.com.
And what can we do knowing this?
Being in a business school, these findings were considered informative but not deeply interesting. Do not forget, the focus of researchers in business schools is centered on causality and on policy-making. Yes, we know that it is important for the reviews to be well-written and informative if we want the product to sell well. But if we cannot do anything about this, it is not deeply interesting. It is almost like knowing that during the cold months the demand for summer resorts drops!
But here comes the twist...
The crowdsourcing solution
Last week, over drinks during the WWW conference, I learned about a fascinating application of crowdsourcing that attacked exactly this issue.
An online retailer noticed that indeed products with high-quality reviews are selling well. So, they decided to take action. They used Amazon Mechanical Turk to improve the quality of its reviews. Using the Find-Fix-Verify pattern, they used Mechanical Turk to examine a few millions of product reviews. For the reviews with mistakes, they fixed the spelling and grammar errors! Thus they effectively improved the quality of the reviews on their website. And, correspondingly, they improved the demand for their products!
While I do not know the exact revenue improvement, I was told that it was substantial. Given that the e-tailer spent at least 10 cents per review, and that they examined approximately 5 million reviews, this is an expense of a few hundred thousand dollars. (My archive on MTurk-Tracker kind of confirms these numbers.) So, the expected revenue improvement should have been at least a few million dollars!
Ethical? I would say yes. Notice that they are not fixing the polarity or the content of the reviews. They just change the language to be correct and error-free. I can see the counter-argument that the writing style allows us to judge if the review is serious or not. So, artificially improving the writing style may be considered as interference with the perceived objectivity of the user-generated reviews.
But is it ingenious? Yes! It is one of these solutions that is sitting in front of you but you just cannot see it. And this is what makes it ingenious.