In the contemporary age of technological advancement and digitalisation, there has been considerable growth in dependency over virtual world. People have moved away from traditional way of searching, comparing and purchasing services ranging from grocery items to travel packages. With the growth in the population of netizens, there has been not only an upsurge in e-commerce but a considerable rise of review and rating websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Zomato and the latest Indian based TaxiClues India. These websites are based on a variety of sectors, from restaurants to travelling, to finding best cab offers to health services and electronic products, etc.
This article explores the reasons behind the fading away of traditional way of searching in comparison with to the rise of trends in increased usage of review websites, reasons behind such rise, and role they play in influencing consumers’ decisions.
Traditional approaches of search and compare
Prior to the onset of online review and rating services, there existed a traditional approach towards provision of such reviews of physical establishments through print media, which were mostly based on restaurants, cafes and holiday destinations. In fact, the published system of review had a significant role in developing the perceptions towards taste, quality and inside knowledge (Blank 2007). One of the initial guidebook giving an insight towards “community manners and taste” was published in France named The History of French Life (Brown 2009; 3). This book, published by Le Grand d’Aussy, Flandrin came up after the French Revolution, when there was an increase in high class restaurants. This led to good taste and expressing oneself of the pleasures of table (Gigante 2005; 9). Later on, from France this tradition of writing reviews on restaurants moved to rest of the Europe and America. Precisely in the mid-1800s’ with the first publication of reviews by the New York Times in 1859 and the furtherance of the practice by Duncan Hines and Craig Claiborne in the early 20th century (Brown 2009; Spang 2000). Thus started a systematic guide of restaurants, influencing both the restaurateurs and customers in their choices. In the later part of the 20th century, before the advent of internet and online review services the Zagat Survey published by Tim and Nina Zagat gave a democratic viewpoint by “collecting opinions of avid consumers (which will provide more) accuracy than the judgements of an individual critic” (Zagat 2009; 2). This survey, not only limited to restaurants but bars, airlines, hotels, movie and shopping and was a complete guidebook. It was a comprehensive version of the new age review websites, thus impacting behavior by establishing notions of “good” and “bad”.
A steady shift from the traditional review tools to new age internet review tools
With the gradual rise of internet and increase in people’s existence and dependency on the virtual world, a considerable shift in the review services from physical entities like books, magazines and surveys to virtual entities. Brown (2009) asserted that the development of review websites as online information brokers have allowed consumers to write reviews directly and have them widely read. Thus enabling to develop a connection with fellow users and producers of restaurateurs, hotel owners, authors, movie producers and associates, etc. These websites have made extensive use of textual reviews and discussions “descriptions and judgements about places written as prose rather than relying on automatic recommendation or preference matching” (Brown 2009; 4). Moreover as pointed out by Schegg & Fux (2010), online websites, providing valid information are no inferior to traditional guides using survey methods. Rather, reviews through the former method “reach millions of members of the public within seconds thus increasing market transparency” (Schegg & Fux 2010; 430). Thus we see digitalization of word-of-mouth recommendations through both negative and positive reviews on the internet. They have a direct impact on the brand image of a commodity, influencing user choices and also serve as a platform for boosting marketing strategy and innovative ideas. This has resulted in the gradual shift from traditional approach of search and compare to virtual reviewing.
Role of review websites
As discussed earlier, internet plays a vital role in the rise and growth of various commercial sites, serves as a platform for e-commerce and enhances social marketing. Growth of review websites where users can price-check commodities before planning their choices enables the current generation to plan their events- from buying household items and clothes to plan a movie.
In 1996 Amazon.com, launched an online review portal encouraging consumers purchasing the goods through them to review their purchase and recommend or criticize the commodity bought. Through this review portal, Amazon.com eventually built a community- an early version of social media around the products. After Amazon.com, Citysearch and Travelocity also launched the same kind of portal but it was mainly about professional reviews and listings information. It was through the establishment of Yelp! In 2004 that “prioritized non-professional reviews”, thereby building an online social community, collecting the recommendation and critiques of users belonging to every level of the society.
Besides influencing the consumers’ choice and providing them details about a particular service or commodity, these review websites have also helped in growth of sales of the business owners. The review websites have enabled the owners in getting a better handle on things that have been said about their company or a specific product. Not only positive reviews but negative ones also prove to be beneficiary in improving the company’s products and services.
How trust worthy are the review websites?
Despite the rise of significance and popularity of review websites, there exists doubt about the authenticity of review and information of data in the review sites. Several scholars have expressed their anguish over the functionality of review websites. A comparative study conducted by Schegg & Fux (2010) between traditional survey method and social survey method, taking the hotels and its guests in Switzerland, observed a mixed result projecting the authenticity of the information provided. The classical customer survey held in summer 2007 yielded more positive result taking the facet of satisfaction with accommodation in consideration. But the overall assessment of hotels by both the approaches (traditional as well as digitalized) does not differ much. Rather, both the approaches showed similar authenticity of information collection from the guests.
Thus, it can be concluded that, review websites do play a crucial role in providing authentic review to the consumers and collecting experiences through their recommendation and critique. Thereby they influence the customer’s choices and boost the sales and performance of a business. A complimentary consideration of both classical survey method and electronic age review approaches would rather render valuable information to both customers and producers.
- Blank, G., 2007. Critics, ratings, and society: the sociology of reviews, Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc.
- Brown, B., 2009. Beyond recommendations: local review websites and their impact. University of Stockholm. Available at: http://bbproj.sics.se/mypapers/yelp camera ready word.pdf [Accessed June 6, 2015].
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- Gigante, D., 2005. Taste: a literary history, Yale University Press.
- Schegg, R. & Fux, M., 2010. Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2010 U. Gretzel, R. Law, & M. Fuchs, eds., Vienna: Springer Vienna.
- Spang, R.L., 2000. The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture, Harvard University Press.
- Zagat, 2009. New York City Restaurants, New York.