Ranking the stars: Online reviewers’ strategic behaviour

Meet the #1 reviewer and #1 on the hall of fame of Amazon: iiiireader from the USA. No real name, age, gender or picture, just his or her hobbies and some lavender. Thanks to Amazon’s reviewer ranking system, iiiireader has built an online reputation of which he/she is probably enjoying many benefits that include earning money and receiving free products.

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As we all know, there are a lot of successful bloggers who gain such benefits from their online blogs about beauty, lifestyle, travelling etc. They were able to turn it into their job and make money by getting attention and building a reputation. Now this also holds for top online reviewers, as online reviews are becoming an integral part of web shops. In the same way as bloggers, they can monetize their online reputation.

There are three parties, each involved in their own way, in the realization and use of reviews. Customers who expect online reviews to be present and of which 82% rely on them before purchasing something, online reviewers producing the reviews and companies that establish online review systems on their websites.

Due to the impact of reviews, companies should understand the incentives for someone to write reviews and be aware of the strategic behaviour of reviewers. A reviewer might only consider his/her own interest in gaining something out of the contribution made, at the expense of the quality of the review. Online reputation and attention are two incentives affecting the behaviour of contributing to online review systems. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are two companies incorporating an online review system. The difference is that Amazon has a reviewer ranking system in place and B&N does not. Such a system enables quantifying online reputations. For instance, Amazon’s ranking system keeps track of iiiireader’s total number of reviews, helpful votes and the percentage of helpful reviews.

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The comparison between Amazon and B&N finds that when a reviewer ranking system is present the competition for attention is higher, thus resulting in more strategic behaviour. Reviewers avoid products that already have many reviews and differentiate their reviews more to gain attention. The attention will help to build their reputation. This leads to several practical implications.

  • When designing an online review system, companies can include a reviewer ranking system in order to provide incentives to the reviewers to continue writing reviews. As explained, this enables reviewers to quantify their reputation, so they will be triggered to compete for attention.
  • The designers of websites can aim to increase the number of reviews for niche products. When a reviewer ranking system is in place, reviewers tend to favour writing reviews for popular (reasonable amount of traffic) but uncrowded (not too many reviews) products.
  • Retailers should take into account the varying online reputations of reviewers that result in varying ratings and review texts. Providing incentives to reviewers to write something about your product will not necessarily depict the true quality.
  • If a reviewer always produces differentiated reviews, a company can decide to signal this to its consumers.


Shen, W., Hu, Y. J., & Rees, J. (2015). Competing for attention: An empirical study of online reviewers’ strategic behaviors. Mis Quarterly, 39(3), 683-696.



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