How grammatical errors impact online reviews

Recently published research from the IU Kelley School of Business on IUPUI’s campus shows consumer trust in online reviews is influenced by spelling errors and typos, but how much those errors influence each consumer depends on the type of error and that person’s general tendency to trust others.

Show Notes:

Shane: Happy Holidays Everyone!!! And if you’re catching this episode at a later date, we hope you had a Holiday season. Along with the time being spent with family and friends, we know this time of year is extremely important for businesses – especially retail related. And according to studies, about 60 percent of shoppers will be researching and reading online reviews before they make a purchase. But how do these shoppers know whether or not they can trust a product or business? You may actually be surprised. Let’s start the show!

(ROI Music)

Shane: We are back! Welcome into The ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus. The Holidays are upon us as we record this – and things are starting to wind down for the year.

Shane: We’re gearing up for the Holiday season and like many of you, I’ve got some shopping that I’ve got to get done… And I want you to think about something for a second. When you’re about to try a new store or a new product – do you do research beforehand? Do you read reviews? The fact is the majority of shoppers do, but the number of stars someone has earned doesn’t necessarily translate to trust, according to Kelley professors Tony and Dena Cox.

Tony: There has been since about the 1970s, a steady decline among Americans in trust of all kinds of institutions

Tony: As a further part of that conversation, another thing we all noticed in our own behavior as a consumer looking at online reviews, is how well or poorly the reviews were written, including spelling and grammatical errors.

Shane: And that’s what Tony and Dena decided to focus their latest research on which is how consumers are influenced by errors that are left by other shoppers in reviews.

Tony: What we did is we went online and got some actual reviews as our base stimuli, for a non-prescription pain reliever. We then altered them, so we had our control condition, which was close to what the actual review had been, and we created 2 modified versions that both had different types of textual errors. (SKIP A FEW SENTENCES) We created the error-free review, which was close to the original review, and then we had one with typos, like transposed letters and common keystroke errors, and another with genuine spelling errors. We did an online experiment where we recruited a national sample of consumers of various ages, levels of education, and so forth, and the respondents were randomly assigned to one of these reviews and asked a series of questions after reading it.

Shane: This is where things get interesting… Tony says there tend to be two types of people: High trusters and low trusters. Essentially, the high trusters can pick up trustworthiness cues in other people, and the low trusters do fairly poorly at picking up these ques.

Shane: So what does this mean for the research? Where there differences among the “high trusters” and the “low trusters” when it came to spotting these errors in the reviews?

Shane: It was the high trusters who were more affected by spelling and grammatical errors in the reviews – Tony explains.

Tony: That’s basically what we found in our research: the people who had low dispositional trust did not distinguish between the reviews in terms of the number or types of errors, but people who had high trust were very sensitive and in particular, they tended to not trust the reviewers who made careless errors – mechanical or typographical - because they associate carelessness with untrustworthiness; people are sort of loose and fast with the facts are also loose with the facts/information.

Tony: They were much more forgiving, in terms of their willingness to trust this reviewer and what they had to say about the product, of people who just had challenges and maybe didn’t know how to spell. An example would be if somebody spelled “refridgerator”, “idg”, consistently – they’re not being careless, they just don’t know how to spell that word. People who were very careless, they viewed that as a cue that they’re careless with the facts too, and less trustworthy. That was interesting to us.

Shane: So what we are seeing is two dimensions to the issue at hand – from a corporate perspective, there’s what people are saying: are they giving me a positive or a negative? And then there’s the issue if people will read the actual review, and then trust what has been written?

Tony: Right – and the way to play it straight, it’s definitely beneficial to have positive online reviews; that’s been shown, the sales’ impact to positive online reviews for restaurants, hotels, and so forth, is really significant, but the old school way of trying to get those is just delivered good customer service. The consumers who are genuinely delighted with your product, those are going to be the ones who are going to be more likely to post online reviews. That’s the old-fashioned way, and there are a lot of companies out there that will advertise, “we’ll help you gen-up your online reviews”, and companies need to be cautious of doing anything that is ballot box stuffing or putting their thumb on the scales, and really focus on delivering a great customer service. The reviews will [then] follow.

Shane So if I’m about to set up a business or take my first dive into online sales, how can I leverage online reviews to my advantage? Tony explains his big takeaway on this:

Tony: My biggest takeaway would be is one reason why high-trust consumers who tend to be more discerning when they react to careless errors is that there’s some indication that they are a signal that this may be a bogus review. As one of the experts we cited in the paper said, “Writing fake reviews is a mass production business”, so a lot of the reviews tend to be written hastily and they’re more likely to have these careless errors. This is more of a warning, if you will, to companies who may be tempted – there are 3rd party organizations who will mass-produce favorable reviews for you to put on them on your website, or there are some companies that may encourage all their employees to go on and write favorable reviews. That kind of mass-production or attempted mass-production of bogus reviews is likely to send signals, like careless errors, that discerning consumers are going to look at and say, “This is bogus”. Not only may they discount that review, but they may have this boomerang reaction against the whole company.

(Closing music)

Shane: For some final thoughts – great business all comes down to providing an exemplary product or service, and complimenting that with the best customer service. By doing this, you are setting you and your company up for success – and the reviews and social proof – that will follow.

(The ROI Podcast Music)

Shane: It’s crazy to think that getting an online review isn’t necessarily enough. According to this research, if those reviews have spelling errors and other mistakes in them, different people can determine whether or not they trust that review – it’s just fascinating.

Shane: Very interesting research. That’s going to do it for this episode of The ROI Podcast. We want to thank Kelley School of Business Marketing Professor Tony Cox for being on the show – and sharing the research he and his wife, also a professor of marketing at the Kelley School, Dena Cox has been doing. And we’d like to remind everyone to subscribe to the ROI Podcast and leave us a review on iTunes. Have a very happy holiday and we will see you back here soon!

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