The Interplay Between Online Consumer Reviews and Recommender Systems: An Experimental Analysis

Daniela Baum and Martin Spann
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 19, Number 1, Fall 2014, pp. 129-162.

Abstract: Online consumers face complex purchase decisions due to the huge selection of products and the vast amount of information available. Online retailers therefore try to support consumer decision making by providing recommendations generated by previous consumers as well as recommendations generated by recommender systems. The goal of this study is to analyze the interplay between online consumer reviews and recommender systems and its effect on consumers’ decision making. We experimentally manipulate the provision of online consumer reviews and provider-generated recommendations for high- and low-involvement products, as well as search and experience products. Using a representative sample of online consumers, we find that providing online consumer reviews does not necessarily have to be beneficial for an online retailer, as inconsistent recommendations do negatively influence consumers’ purchase decisions. In addition, by providing positive opinions of previous customers in addition to a recommender system’s recommendation, online retailers may increase the effectiveness of their recommender system. However, if a previous customer’s recommendation contradicts that of a recommender system, positive consumer reviews may even have negative consequences for online retailers.

Key Words and Phrases: business-to-consumer (B2C) e‑commerce, consumer behavior, decision making, e‑tail, electronic word of mouth (eWOM), online consumer reviews, online experiments, recommender system.