Can Cultural Norms Influence eCommerce Reviews? A VoC Analysis of 14 Countries

Published on — Written by Wonderflow

cultural norms ecommerce reviews

Every country has its own set of rules or expectations, which we call cultural norms. They are behaviors and thoughts based on shared beliefs within a particular culture or group. Norms are usually unspoken and create social standards for what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable in human interactions. In a way, norms govern our individual lives.

On the other hand, stereotypes are fixed, over-generalized beliefs, assumptions, or expectations about a particular group or class. In the business world, for example, the Dutch are often stereotyped as ‘price-conscious,’ and the Italians are often perceived as ‘taste-conscious.’

In this blog post, we wanted to find out if cultural norms hold in the eCommerce context, specifically: can an individual’s country of origin or culture influence how they rate and review an online purchased product?

Read on to learn more!

The Effects of Cultural Norms on eCommerce Ratings & Reviews: Coffee Machines Across 14 Markets

cultural norms reviews ecommerce

To answer the above-mentioned research question, Wonderflow’s market intelligence experts analyzed more than 1.3 million ratings and reviews in the consumer electronics category of coffee machines and from various online channels. The analysis covered 14 countries across three regions (North America, Europe, and Australia).

We found that the average rating for the Coffee Machine category is 4.33, a value that aligns with the threshold in which a consumer is more likely to consider and thus purchase an online product. The most interesting insight was that the range goes from 4.10 to 4.80. This means there are countries where people are used to leaving a low star rating, such as Spain (4.10). In other countries, like Poland, for example, consumers are more likely to leave a high rating (in fact, the average rating is 4.80).

In Table 1 below, one can see the ranking of the countries, divided by the ones above the average and those below.

ecommerce reviews cultural norms

Table 1: Average star rating of the coffee machines category by country

From Table 1, it’s concluded that the average rating of 4.33 can be misleading. In evaluating a specific coffee machine, one should consider that 4.3 is “great performance” if your product is sold in the United States. On the other hand, if you are evaluating a product with the same average rating as in Poland (4.8), something likely went wrong with it. 

Overall, we found that the average rating can change significantly from one country to another, which is essential to keep in mind.

However, what about the reviews? Can the amount of positive or negative reviews change from one country to another? To understand this, we will look at a key performance indicator in the next section: the Sentiment Index.

Sentiment Index: Its Role in Understanding Cultural Norms & Online Reviews

Each review can contain several positive and negative comments. The Sentiment Index plots the difference between the total amount of positive and negative comments. It does so in a range that goes from -1 to +1, where 1 means that there are only positive comments. While -1 implies that we have only negatives, and 0 means that we have as many positive as negative comments.

Table 2 shows the Sentiment Index for each of the 14 countries.

ecommerce reviews cultural norms

Table 2: Sentiment Index of the coffee machines category by country

Based on the table above, despite the wide range from 0.79 (Sweden) to 0.34 (Belgium), the indicator never goes below 0. This means that, in each country, more positive than negative comments are written. However, in some of the analyzed countries, people tend to be more critical than others when reviewing coffee machines. Generally, a country with a high rating also has a high Sentiment Index, particularly countries like Sweden, Poland, and Australia. 

However, it’s interesting to notice how Italy, which has a rating below the category average, has one of the highest scores regarding the Sentiment Index. This means that people are more eager to leave a high amount of positive feedback (Sentiment Index = 0.69), but they tend to leave relatively low star ratings.

The situation in Switzerland is the opposite: people generally give a high rating, an average of 4.42. However, they write more critical reviews than almost every other country (Sentiment Index = 0.51).

Things Gone Wrong (TGW): Its Role in Understanding Cultural Norms & Online Reviews

While the Sentiment Index allows managers to understand if people are talking mainly positively or negatively about a product – another indicator – Things Gone Wrong (TGW) – allows us to figure out how much people criticize and report problems about a specific product. The TGW KPI tells us how many complaints related to actionable aspects, on average, a review contains. Of course, the lower the number of the indicator, the better the product.

As the leading example here, the average TGW for the Coffee Machine category is 0.46, indicating that not all ‌ reviews contain a negative comment, but, on average, a little less than one in two.

Reading the TGW together with the Sentiment Index allows us to understand (1) whether the purchaser leaving a review is critical (or known as “the Critical Reviewers” where there is a high TGW and low Sentiment Index); (2) whether they like to describe all the pros and cons found in the products (“the Describers” – moderate TGW and high or moderate Sentiment Index); (3) whether it is “the Enthusiasts” (those who generally write mostly positive feedback and are satisfied with the purchase). 

Chart 1 below illustrates the three different types of reviewers, and following this are real examples of reviews found in our analysis, one representing each type. 

ecommerce reviews cultural norms

Chart 1: Scatter Plot of the countries by Sentiment Index and TGW

A Critical Reviewer from Germany wrote:

“ The water tank is too small for a 2-person household (an affliction of most fully automatic machines), and the grounds container is also too small. The machine annoys me too often with refilling the tank or emptying the container. In addition, the warning to empty the coffee grounds container comes a little late, so that the water already sloshes dangerously when you take the tank to the sink” 

A Describer from the U.S. wrote:

“The good: The unit is compact, simple to use and easy to clean, the carafe doesn’t keep coffee hot for very long at all, Coffee brewed at breakfast will be barely warm by lunch. The dumb: the carafe lid needs to be removed in order to brew and then reattached for pouring coffee, the carafe doesn’t fit inside the unit with the lid on, the carafe design overall is sloppy”

An Enthusiast from Poland wrote: 

“I am most satisfied with my purchase. The espresso machine looks very elegant, it takes up little space. It works quite quietly for other coffee machines I have come across, and then it is very easy to clean. The milk froth is great. And the coffee … Is delicious. Super crema comes out. An ideal espresso machine for this price, I recommend it.”

Key Takeaways

Globalization has allowed us as consumers, for many years now, to purchase the same product in many different countries across the world. For brands, it’s of course crucial to understand what customers are saying about these products, and what they like and dislike, across all countries. But it’s important to bear in mind that the way people give ratings and write reviews, it’s influenced by their country of origin. This is for different reasons: cultural norms strongly guide our behaviors and beliefs.

For example, we at Wonderflow know that from analyzing millions of reviews people in the US or in Japan always tend to give a lower rating even when they are satisfied with the product. Whereas, people in Poland always rate their product very highly or people in Germany, for example, tend to write long reviews with an exhaustive list of all the pros and cons, both when they are happy or not with the product.

On the other hand, also, the perception of a product or a category can be different based on the popularity of a certain category in a country. For example, referring to the Coffee Machines category, in the US, coffee makers with carafes are a very popular product, while in European countries their uses are much more limited.

So, an American customer might be more critical in reviewing a new coffee maker as if they had already bought several ones before that one, while Italian customers might have a better opinion if he or she doesn’t have any other experience to compare the product with.


When it comes to evaluating a product sold in different markets or countries, managers should keep in mind ‌the different cultures. Establishing awareness with a set of norms will allow one to interpret the KPIs better and, therefore, make the right product decisions. To talk more in-depth with one of our VoC experts, contact us now, and we’d be happy to show you a live, free demo of the KPIs via the Wonderboard.

About Wonderflow

Wonderflow empowers businesses with quick and impactful decision-making because it helps automate and deliver in-depth consumer and competitor insights. All within one place, results are simplified for professionals across any high-UGC organization, and department to access, understand, and share easily. Compared to hiring more analysts, Wonderflow’s AI eliminates the need for human-led setup and analysis, resulting in thousands of structured and unstructured reviews analyzed within a matter of weeks and with up to 50% or more accurate data. The system sources relevant private and public consumer feedback from over 200 channels, including emails, forums, call center logs, chat rooms, social media, and e-commerce. What’s most unique is that its AI is the first ever to help recommend personalized business actions and predict the impact of those actions on key outcomes. Wonderflow is leveraged by high-grade customers like Philips, DHL, Beko, Lavazza, Colgate-Palmolive, GSK, Delonghi, and more.

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