Online reviews have become increasingly prevalent and play an important role in consumers’ choice of hospitality products. Consumers may hope to read every review available prior to purchase. Yet, they may be reluctant to do so due to the limited reso ...
Online reviews have become increasingly prevalent and play an important role in consumers’ choice of hospitality products. Consumers may hope to read every review available prior to purchase. Yet, they may be reluctant to do so due to the limited resources to process an overwhelming number of reviews. A perspective of information processing in social psychology suggests that people are “cognitive miser” (Fiske & Taylor, 1991), who prefer to make less cognitive effort and to use more simple decision rules (i.e., heuristics) in judging the validity of messages like online reviews (Chaiken, 1987). Thus, hospitality industry presents online product reviews in easy-to-process ways (e.g., overall review ratings, the number of negative and positive reviews). And consumers generally engage in a selective information processing by reading the so-called “helpful reviews” (Baek, Ahn, & Choi, 2012).
Scholars in hospitality research echoed this approach by examining the effective strategies of review presentation that affect consumer product attitudes, and found the followings as influential factors: overall review ratings (Cao et al., 2011), the number of reviews (Lee, Park, & Han, 2008; Park & Kim, 2009), review valence or sequence (Kim & Lee, 2015; Sparks & Browing, 2011), and review consensus (Lee & Song, 2010; Lee & Cranage, 2014). However, these researchers generally addressed the influence of online review characteristics and neglected to explore a more fundamental question of what makes online reviews helpful and credible (Pan & Zhang, 2011). Given that various online hotel review Websites compete for consumers’ attention and presenting helpful reviews can offer a competitive edge in winning the patronage of consumers (Li, Huang, Tan, & Wei, 2013), it is critical to investigate the effective strategies in providing easy-to-access more credible and helpful reviews.
Hence, the current research seeks a clearer understanding of what makes online hotel reviews more helpful and credible in the context of a hotel review Website. In particular, this research attempts to provide insights into how and why salience of social identity information on hotel reviewers influences the consumers who evaluate the helpfulness of reviews and who choose the hotels reviewed. Juxtaposing social identity theory and information processing theory, this study aims to examine the social influence of online hotel reviews on potential customers’ attitudes towards a hotel. The particular focus was on whether consumers find the hotel reviews more helpful and credible, especially when those reviews are generated from the same social identity group. In this regard, special attention was given to a review filtering function that enables users to extract the reviews written by a particular traveler type (e.g., business, families, couples, solo, friends, students etc.). Hence, the primary objectives of this study are to identify the effect of reviewers’ identity categorization on consumers’ judgment of online reviews - whether and how an individual consumer responds to online hotel reviews differently when the reviews are endorsed by in-group (a traveler group with a common interest) vs. out-group (a traveler group with a different interest) sources.
To address the proposed research questions and hypotheses for each study, the current research conducted one laboratory hypothetical scenario-based experiment. This approach helps to avoid common method bias and cross-validate the study findings, thereby giving a better understanding of what makes online review helpful. The context of this study is a hotel review website like TripAdvisor. To test the hypotheses, a 2 x 3 full-factorial between-subjects experimental design was employed. Two social identity salience groups (high vs. low) combined with three review rating configurations (in-group review ratings exceed vs. equal vs. fall below out-group review ratings) generated six treatment groups. Subjects logged in the experiment website. They firstly saw the randomly assigned scenario. After reading the scenario, the subjects undertook the hotel search process, in which the two modules sequentially presents a particular hotel’s overall average review rating and review ratings of “in-group” and “out-group” reviewers. Subjects’ initial attitudes towards the hotel were checked right after the overall average review ratings. When the subjects finish reading all the aforementioned review information (i.e., group review ratings), their post-attitudes toward the hotel were measured. Then, subjects were finally asked to finish answering the follow-up questionnaire that include measures for manipulation check, perceived review helpfulness, and review credibility.
The results show that people with strong social identity salience will give higher ratings of helpfulness and credibility to online reviews by in-group members than online reviews by out-group members. In addition, people with strong social identity salience will give higher ratings of helpfulness and credibility to negative (vs. positive) reviews by in-group members. Finally, people with strong social identity salience will display greater change of attitudes towards a hotel after seeing negative (vs. positive) reviews by in-group members. This research dedicates to the advancement of research-based practice in the hospitality industry by helping further the drastically increasing online hospitality distribution channels - online booking and review website. As more hospitality businesses extend their booking channels to the third-party intermediaries like Expedia.com and TripAdvisor.com, employing the best strategy to screen and present helpful reviews to potential consumers needs to be investigated and taken into consideration in the development of an effective marketing strategy. Helpful reviews play an important role in influencing consumer product judgment and purchase decision making. Although the review helpfulness has become the focus of prior studies, and a considerable amount of research has attempted to explore the components of helpful reviews, scant attention has been paid to investigating the types of reviews and the critical role of the review source that are actually helpful for a consumer to arrive at an informed judgment and choice. The current study contributes to the literature in the antecedents of online word-of-mouth by exploring how identity-descriptive information about reviewers shapes the way consumers process online hotel reviews. It provides insight into how and why reviewers’ identity categorization influences the consumers who evaluate the helpfulness of reviews and who choose the hotels reviewed. On the other hand, the wide adoption of online marketing channels has generated a wealth of textual review data, which contain hidden knowledge for business to leverage for a competitive edge. Despite the potential significance, the critical mass of empirical studies still lack in a text-mining-and-analytics-approach to consumer reviews in the hospitality research. Using both non-text features (e.g., review ratings and the number of helpfulness votes received) and text, this research provides more understanding of what drives the helpful reviews. The results may help online review website improve the design of user review systems and better aggregation of information, thus resulting in more credible and helpful reviews.
This study, to the best of our knowledge, is among the first in reviewing theoretical foundations of online review analytics in terms of social identity theory, information processing theory, and consumer buying behavior. The findings of these two studies are expected to pave the way for future research directions and guide innovative and timely research avenue in the area of business analytics using online hotel reviews.