The University of Kentucky Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments

A New Way To See Product Reviews

The Internet changed the way we shop.  Today we can order anything online, ship it straight to our door, and never set foot in the mall again.  The Internet not only transformed how we make purchases, it also revolutionized how we choose what to buy.  With the Internet, the cost of acquiring information about various products is significantly reduced.  It is easy to go to several different sites and compare prices and reviews of various products.

For example, before you choose a camera to buy, you want to be sure that you are getting your money’s worth so you would read other customers’ reviews.  Some reviews are text only, some have pictures and text, and some are videos.  Since these reviews can become powerful sales tools for companies, Dr. Radhika Santhanam decided to research the effect different types of reviews can have on the consumer’s perception of the product.

To research this, Dr. Santhanam’s graduate students, Pei Xu, Lijuan Wu, and Liang Chen, set up an experimental study of three products.  Each product had a review in three formats – text, text and pictures, and video – though the information used in each format remained the same for each review, regardless of the set up.  They researched, “the extent to which visual media in online product reviews that are given by customers persuade other prospective customers to purchase the product,” Dr. Santhanam explained.

Results show that video reviews are the best tool in online shopping.  There is little difference between the influence of text reviews and that of image-based reviews.  A company’s knowledge of how to best present customer reviews can be an influential sales tool, resulting in improved sales of a product.  Researchers hope to eventually be able to tell a company which review mode will work best to promote sales of a certain product.

Dr. Santhanam hopes to continue research in online product reviews with the University of Kentucky’s Vis Center to improve the visualization used in reviews.  With the development of haptic interfaces, or systems that allow you to touch and manipulate a virtual object, haptic reviews may be even more powerful than video reviews.  As more and more companies close brick and mortar stores and sell exclusively online, customer reviews will drive sales even more.

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