Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing and Reviews

My husband emailed me a very interesting article this morning from Freakonomics. You can read the whole article here, but basically it says that when people read online reviews, they are more likely to purchase the product if the review is well written.

On first glance, this seems to make sense. I mean, I'm more likely to take a review seriously if it seems considered and well thought out. But, what I wouldn't have expected was that people are more likely to purchase the product even if those well-written reviews are negative. Essentially, the article suggests, the content of the review is less important than the quality of the review.

I have trouble believing this. I would have thought that if I encountered a product with well-written negative reviews, I would probably not purchase the product. After all, it would seem the reviewer gave the product careful consideration and then took the time to warn me against it. Furthermore, I can imagine encountering the same product with poorly-written negative reviews and thinking that the reviewers were too upset to write well, and thus perhaps were too hasty in their judgment of the product. In such a case, I can imagine purchasing the product, and hoping for the best.

This study seems to indicate the opposite, that I would purchase the product that someone spent time and thought to advise me against, but that I would not purchase the product that the angry, impulsive person reviewed.

Why do you suppose this is the case?

This study got me thinking, if you wanted to write a negative review of a product, might it be more effective to do so with poor grammar and spelling? After all, by writing a "good" negative review, you might actually be increasing the product's sales.

At the end of the article, we learn that Zappos actually went through its reviews and corrected for spelling and grammar in an effort to increase product sales. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm a fan of Zappos, and I'm a fan of good writing, but it seems somehow inappropriate for a company to go in and change the reviews of its own products.

Incidentally the very next email I received was from Zappos... asking me to post a review.

What do you think? What kind of review makes you want to buy a product? Do you think it's acceptable for a company to change your review, even if they're just fixing your spelling and grammar?


  1. The result of the study is surprising, but the decision by Zappos to change reviews posted by their customers is disturbing. What is to stop them from "correcting" grammar in such a way as to soften a criticism? That certainly makes me less inclined to give them a good review. It almost makes me want to give them a bad review just to see how they "correct" my grammar.

  2. I wonder what kind of person purchases an item with a negative review. What is going on inside their little gray cells? Are there that many contrarians out there?

  3. You gotta be kidding - Someone writes a negative review, with good or bad grammar, and then people still buy the product? That reinforces the old politician saying about newspaper reports, "I don't care what you, just be sure to spell the name correctly!"