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  • Writer's pictureRiya Wadhwani

Beware of Product Reviews!

Written by Riya Wadhwani, Ph.D. Student at Indian Institute of Management Udaipur, India


Consumer reviews are major factors in the decision of online buyers. The increasing dependency on online reviews increases the importance of knowing which ones are authentic and which are fake. How are product reviews classified as suspicious, and what product/brand characteristics contribute to suspicion toward reviews? An interview with Prof. Emily Ko unpacks the consumer psychology of suspicion.


Prof. Doug Bowman (Left) and Prof. Emily (Centre) and her Family (Prof. Emily’s husband and child) at the commencement


When online, consumers’ perceptions of product reviews are ambivalent. Consumers are dependent on reviews when making purchase decisions, but at the same time, they are concerned about the reviews’ quality. In a forthcoming IJRM paper titled, Suspicious online product reviews: An empirical analysis of brand and product characteristics using Amazon data, Prof. Eunhee (Emily) Ko (Assistant Professor, Northwestern University), in collaboration with her advisor Prof. Doug Bowman (Professor of Marketing, Emory University), explore consumers’ suspicion towards reviews and identify which brands’ reviews are likely to be perceived as fake.


The What, Why and How of Suspicious Reviews


The paper predicts the likelihood of suspicion towards product reviews based on four marketplace signals - perceived brand strength, brand advertising effort, price, and sales. Using a large sample (18 years) of Amazon review data for branded products across 16 product categories, the authors found that lower perceived brand strength and lower brand advertising effort increased the likelihood of suspicion towards brand online reviews. Higher prices and higher sales rank (closer to #1) lead to a lower likelihood that brand reviews will be perceived as suspicious.


"Studying suspicious or fake reviews is crucial today, given the widespread use of opinion-sharing platforms. Even a small number of fake reviews can significantly harm a business's standing on e-commerce platforms. Brands and platforms must make efforts to combat malicious behavior like spamming to maintain their market status."

- Emily Ko


Additionally, Emily highlighted that the biggest challenge in conducting this research was categorizing and labeling reviews as suspicious and unsuspicious. Although human involvement in categorizing the reviews would have been ideal, the large number of observations in the dataset made manual sorting impractical. Emily’s proficiency in text mining and machine learning played a critical role. They used a machine learning algorithm trained with human input to study how consumers perceive the authenticity of online brand reviews.


The combination of my training in machine learning and analytics, supervisor’s invaluable support, and insightful feedback received during IJRM review process, ultimately paved the way for the final publication.”

-Emily Ko

From an online shopper to the author of a published paper


"Shopping is my love, though my schedule often limits my time for it. When I began using opinion-sharing platforms, I heavily relied on product reviews and user-generated content, but suspected that some of them were not real. This led me to want to validate this observation through empirical evidence. "

- Emily Ko


Emily revealed that the original version of this idea emerged during the second year of her Ph.D. program and was inspired by her own avid shopping tendencies and her concerns about online reviews. It took three years of commitment to bring the paper to fruition, with practical insights from IJRM’s review process paving the way for final publication.

Emily emphasized the critical role of the second round of revisions in shaping the research paper. In this phase, the Associate Editor (AE) and the review team provided practical, actionable solutions. Suggestions ranged from incorporating and implementing some of the four marketplace signals to reclassifying ratings as “suspicious” rather than “fake” reviews, an evolution of an earlier version of the idea.

Beyond the second round of the paper, the echo of IJRM's acceptance email, declaring, “Congratulations, we like your work,” continues to inspire her. “More than the acceptance itself, the idea that someone actually read the work, appreciated the effort, end enjoyed reading the paper, means a lot.”



Emily and her son Jiwoo


 

Read the Paper

Interested to know why you suspect online reviews? Read the full paper here.


Want to cite the paper?

Ko, E. E., & Bowman, D. (2023). Suspicious online product reviews: An empirical analysis of brand and product characteristics using Amazon data. International Journal of Research in Marketing.

 

Meet Eunhee (Emily) Ko

Assistant Professor at Northwestern University


A ritual/practice/exercise you can’t miss or start your day without?

Breakfast is a must, as taught by my mother. Breakfast is either leftovers from last night. 70% of our breakfast is Korean, while 30% is inspired by American cuisine. So, Korean fried egg with rice and Kimchi (a traditional Korean dish made from salted and fermented vegetables) is my go-to breakfast.



If you would not be a marketing researcher, what would you be?

If I weren't a marketing researcher, I would likely pursue entrepreneurship. I have had the experience of owning a business in the past. The reason for being a researcher or an entrepreneur is the sense of control. As a researcher, I have the flexibility to develop, implement, and experiment with an idea. In the business world, we have to be deeply involved in the idea from start to finish and have control over the entire process, from idea generation to publication (in research) or product launch (in business).


If you could retain only one concept in marketing, what would it be?

Consumer heterogeneity, due to rapid innovation and a competitive business environment, is becoming difficult for businesses to catch up. Therefore, understanding consumer heterogeneity is becoming very important.


What are the three things to focus on as a PhD student?

Finding your research interests along with focusing on honing the required skills, the right advisor to help you sail through the rough patches, and trying something new without hesitation.


Who is the researcher from any field you would like to sit to lunch with, what would you say to him/her?

Professor Catherine Tucker from MIT Sloan, a renowned professor from MIT Sloan. During her guest lecture at Emory University, I was not only struck by the depth of her scholarly work but also by her candid approach to life. Given the opportunity to meet over lunch, I am eager to seize the occasion to gain insight into how she adeptly harmonizes the demands of her academic career with her familial responsibilities.


What is the number one question you hope to answer during your career (something that drives you)?

Instead of taking a more professional approach to this question, I just want to share that I struggle to balance work and family. So, the question I hope to answer during my career is balancing my career, family, and personal life.


 

This article was written by

Riya Wadhwani

Ph.D. student at the Indian Institute of Management, Udaipur (Rajasthan, India)




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