Bandwagon Cues – To Jump or Not to Jump?

Continuing on the theme of new research from the CHI 2009 conference, I came across another interesting poster – this time from Penn State University (S. Shyam Sundar, Qian Xu and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, “Authority vs. Peer: How Interface Cues Influence Users”). Here the researchers were considering the effect of an authoritative logo and customer comments on purchase intention, participants’ product attitudes and a raft of other factors they referred to as “bandwagon perceptions”.

For the studies they used a typical product page, as shown in Figure 1 (adapted from Amazon). The “authority” seal shown (above the camera) was either for a fictitious organisation (Zig! as displayed here) or for CNET, a well-known technology review site (or it was absent altogether). Both seals were fairly similar in appearance.

Typical product page showing Zip! authority seal 

Figure 1: Typical Product Page

The researchers also made use of “outlying reviews” – that is, one where the reviewer expressed dissatisfaction with a product, even though the average score among all reviewers was high. So, in summary, there were two main effects of interest: faux versus “real” authority logo and presence or absence of “outlying” (dissenting) review.

Some of the reported results are as might be expected, but there was one very interesting interaction between the authority seal and an outlying review:

  • When no authority seal was shown, the presence of an outlying review had no effect on purchase intention
  • When the CNET seal was shown, purchase intention was contingent on the absence of an outlying review (that is, an outlying review reduced the likelihood of purchase)
  • When the Zig! Seal was shown, the situation was reversed (that is, an outlying review increased the likelihood of purchase)

The relatioship between the seals and the presence of outliers is shown in Figure 2. Needless to say, this final point – that purchasing intention increase with an outlying review – is somewhat counter-intuitive. The researchers offer no explanation for it and I have none to offer. It would be interesting to know whether other studies show any similar effect. I’ll write more on this if something turns up!

Chart showing negative effect of outlying review with CNET seal and opposite for Zig! seal

Figure 2: Purchasing Intention by Seal Condition and Presence of Outlying Review 

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