There is a (rather prosaic, but no less enjoyable) joke in one of Patrick O’Brian’s books that made it (where many other things didn’t) into the script of the adventure film "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" from 2003. Aboard a british sailing frigate the captain asks his friend, an erudite surgeon, to choose between two weevils (a species of larvae feeding on ship biscuits, in those times). The surgeon chooses the larger one and becomes the target of captain deadpan answer: "in the Navy one must choose always the lesser of the two weevils", followed by a roar of laughter from the the other knowledgeable officers at the table.
As this amusing example shows, rating, ranking and reviewing have always followed humans around. We must compare, we have to decide and we are strongly inclined to share our ratings with others around us. Not so long ago, the business of publicizing ratings & rankings were the province of experts. This is no longer the case. Nowadays almost everything is rated or ranked. We even do it to ourselves when we track our number of steps per day, for instance.
While doing research on the topic I reviewed DeLoitte’s report "The growing power of consumers". One of the most interesting things mentioned in the report is how technology enables and empowers consumers, ultimately making them into active players. The degree to which this is happening already is awe-inspiring. DeLoitte find that reviews and ratings are one of the most sought for forms of digital content: 81% of people read anonymous customer reviews. Not only are we looking for reviews, a lot of us decide to influence others: ~ 40% of people post their own reviews.
Author and futurist Richard Watson traces the origin of reviews & ratings’ ascension to prominence in the starting years of Ebay when these proved very valuable in overcoming the buyers’ distrust. How far will end up with applying this strategy is open for debate, but he points out that there are cases in China of 'social credit system', where - if successful - the result will be a national scheme to give every individual a personal social rating.
Meantimes, the trend continues in favour of reviews, ratings and rankings: the DeLoitte reports these turn to be the most trusted source (60% !) when looking to buy something online, provided they were written by friends or family or by anonymous customers. Experts, by comparison, even if judged to be impartial do not exceed 43% trust levels. This drastically drops to 16% when retailers (in some form or another) provide the rating or review, or even lower, to 12% when made by manufacturers or providers of services.
One of the most surprising findings mentioned in the report is the fact that, contrary to our intuition, people are significantly more likely to share positive experiences, provided they have easy access to the tools to do so.
According to Ben Perkins, head of DeLoitte’s head of Consumer Business Research UK, this should be a major lesson for retailers or businesses: happy customer is much more likely to talk about their positive experiences than disgruntled customers about their negative ones.
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