eWOM and the existence of fake reviews: An investigation into the effects on consumer trust-building and decision-making processes

Jonas Forup Stubkjaer

Student thesis: Master thesis


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The objective of this thesis is to investigate how the existence and extent of fake reviews may affect consumers’ trust in online review sites, their perceived credibility of the reviewed product and company, and consumers’ related purchase intention and, furthermore, how cognitive heuristics may moderate the relationships. Two related studies are conducted on the basis of two developed theoretical models: a focus group interview and an online questionnaire. The studies overall confirm the overarching existing findings that eWOM has a direct impact on purchase intention as well as indirect impacts via trust and credibility. They also indicate that consumers’ trust in eWOM in general and in review sites is considerably weakened by the knowledge of fake reviews. Their perceived credibility of the reviewed product and company and their related purchase intention are, however, relatively unaffected. Judging from the changes in the overall moderating role and power of the individual cognitive heuristic under investigation, it can, furthermore, be argued that the effects are carried through the suggested processual relationships between the parameters. When eWOM credibility is challenged by fake eWOM, it appears to result in increased consumer reliance on the general reputation of the review site and the reviewed product and company, on large-scale endorsements, as well as on the consumers’ own pre-existing opinions and expectations. Despite the considerable trust weakening, it appears, however, that consumers’ will continue to consult and trust in eWOM on review sites. This is likely due to the lack of a better alternative and the seeming belief that it is possible, as a consumer, to distinguish the fake reviews from the genuine, despite existing research having demonstrated its impossibility. This thesis corroborates a considerable number and variety of existing research findings related to eWOM, trust, and cognitive psychology research. It, furthermore, contributes to the existing research bodies by investigating an aspect that appears, thus far, to have been unexplored. By treating trust and credibility as separate variables rather than merely mediators between eWOM and purchase intention, it is, furthermore, argued that valuable insight into their features and roles in the relationships is added. Finally, a typology of fake reviews is developed, which serves as a much-needed overview of the various types of fake eWOM, their motivations, involved actors, and assessed long-term impacts. In sum, this thesis’ additions to the existing literature serve as a guide for future research to test and to further build on this thesis’ findings.

EducationsCand.merc.smc Strategic Market Creation, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages85