Should you trust online reviews of cameras and other gear submitted by customers to online retailers? A new report co-written by an MIT professor may hold some surprising answers.

Negative ratings by influential reviewers adversely affect sales, according to the report, yet many product reviews are from customers who have not purchased the product they are reviewing. Moreover, these reviews are significantly more negative than reviews from a customer who has previously purchased the item.

“It appears that [the negative reviews] are not just due to to the strategic actions of firms bolstering their image or competitors trying to damage that image. Instead, the phenomenon extends to individual customers who have no financial incentive to influence product ratings,” state authors Duncan Simester PhD ’93 of MIT and Eric Anderson PhD ’95 of Northwestern University.

If financial advantage is not the incentive, what motivates these reviewers? Read a summary of “Deceptive Reviews: The Influential Tail” at Petapixel.

Simester is the Nanyang Technological University Professor Professor of Marketing at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Download a PDF of the full report.

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