Online Reviews: Flirtation Commerce?

A study from the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business may also describe some interesting relationships to romance, online auctions and purchases resulting from online product reviews. The study itself didn’t talk about Ebay, ecommerce or romance, but I’m going to suggest you look at in that light.

We found that once people commit to buying or consuming something, there’s a kind of wishful thinking that happens and they want to like what they’ve bought,” said assistant professor of marketing Dhananjay Nayakankuppam. “The less you know about a product, the easier it is to engage in wishful thinking. But the more information you have, the harder it is to kid yourself. This can be contrasted with what happens before taking any action when people are trying to be accurate and would prefer getting more information to less.

Blissfully Ignorant Shoppers Happier with Choices

If we’re hooked before we know too much, a sort of loyalty can kick in and we’re ready to try the thing, warts and all.

Researchers are assuming that for bigger ticket items, “such as cars or houses,” people would do more research, thus limiting the “Blissful Ignorance Effect.” Gotta wonder, though.

How many of us have fallen for cars and spouses before having the full picture? The first time I saw The Italian Job I fell in love with the idea of owning a Cooper Mini, never mind that I am nearly six feet tall – not an optimum match for a truly compact car. My loyal Cooper Mini infatuation persists. And I’m still tall. And still wondering how that other not-a-house thing didn’t work out.

Flirtation Commerce: An Ebay Effect?

Could the popularity of online reviews be partly due to the blissful ignorance effect?

Think about it.

Regardless of how complete and sensible a checklist a shopper starts with, they are still operating without the benefit of eye contact and vocal nuance. An online review is not the same as eye contact with a neighbor who has the product in their hands. Reality is veiled, as our minds fill in the blanks between product reviews. We like to hope.

Live help can feel more comprehensive, but is it? Unless there are microphones involved, in a live chat session the sales rep who says “Item X is my favorite item,” and means it sounds exactly like the sales rep who is going through the motions. Not hearing the sales rep may be a good thing: I’m not as interested in if they’re having a hard time at work as I am in romancing the possibility of the perfect-for-me purchase.

No matter how many reviews there are, there is a built in lack of depth: shoppers read just enough information to think that they have found a reasonable possibility of satisfaction – a bit like the speed dating I’ve seen on TV. Is this built-in Blissful Ignorance?

Does Blissful Ignorance breed blissful ignorance? Shoppers who go on to buy may do so via an online store, or online auction, or they may get into Mini Coopers and drive off to buy in a brick and mortar store, feeling like triumphant hunters. And some of them go on to write more reviews.

I’m dubbing this the Ebay effect. Give the potentially blissful a few pictures, a description, a high seller approval rating and a way to compete with others who are similarly bent on bliss, and set up the un-menacing uncertainty of an auction. We bid. We buy. We exchange hopefully positive reviews. We repeat.

And repeat we do.

  • The top of the top Ebay sellers have received over 200,000 customer “feedback” reviews.
  • Amazon’s top reviewer has written 15952 reviews.
  • The most popular author of all time on eopinions, dkozin, has 5,384,263 page views.

TMI Does Romance Wrong: Getting Around Information Aversion

TMI (Too Much Information) is, indeed, one of the reasons whatshisname whose subject line reads “Leave her satisfied every night” is not going to get an open or a return email from li’l ol moi. That’s an unfair example, because I’m already prejudiced against spam. Here’s another: though I am not predisposed against goodness and charity, I’m not the only one to speculate that cause marketing and other forms of saving the world could also trigger a reverse of blissful ignorance.

As Tom Belford of The Agitator states,

Does this mean you should avoid communicating with new donors?!

I think not. This same emotional need to feel justified with one’s choice probably explains why direct marketers find high success with very fast turn-arounds on up-sells and cross-sells.

Smart marketers, including fundraisers, move very quickly to assist new customers (and donors) in emotionally validating their first purchase/gift … with a second one!

The Blissful Ignorance Effect


Imagine this: an image of starving mother and child, with the caption “Hope,” followed with details about how you can help and a “Donate” badge. The grimmer information comes later, after the hope.

Now imagine this: the same image, with the caption “They’re Dying,” followed with thesis-like details about how many died because you weren’t helping. The “Donate” badge and hopeful conclusion come later. The information is the same.

Which makes best use of just enough ignorance? The first, of course. Tempt me with hope and you have tempered my despair.

Flirt with me. Show me the good side, or give me a way to find it myself. I need to know it’s there so much that, in the absence of copy editing, you can give me product reviews and I’ll romance what I’m looking for all on my own.