Considering the Influence of Online Study Abroad Reviews:

Considering the Influence of Online Study Abroad Reviews:

A Reflection On “How Online Product Reviews Affect Retail Sales: A Meta-Analysis”

4 starsWhether we like it or not, the roles of traditional marketing and word-of-mouth promotion now share a large seat at the table with online product reviews. Many industries are already defined by the way their customers use online opportunities to “harangue, lecture, pontificate, and otherwise broadcast personal opinions” (Notess 2000), and for most of us it is increasingly rare to book a hotel, buy a camera, or select a movie without first consulting the opinion of hundreds of strangers. But the actual influence of online reviews on sales remains the center of an academic discussion that is still diverse in focus, method, and results. Professors Floyd, Freling, Alhoqail, Cho, and Freling (College of Business Administration, University of Texas at Arlington) set out to bring some uniformity to the topic with their meta-analysis of 26 studies that included 443 sales elasticities. Their conclusions pose interesting questions for a product that they do not include, namely study abroad programs, where publicly available participant reviews are still in initial stages of popularity but seem likely to follow the course of most other products and services, for reasons that will be seen.

An important note is that the authors of this paper found little variation in their findings despite differences in geography (US or non-US), prestige (elite journals verses lesser known) or method (simple verses sophisticated analysis), which “suggests that the conclusions we draw about online product reviews are relatively generalizable across a variety of contexts” (227). Still, there is likely to be some healthy skepticism towards applying these findings to study abroad. Clearly, more than any product included in the meta-analysis, study abroad programs vary widely in price, length, intent, and conditions, but most importantly in the motivation of participants. While some students might prioritize travel or social opportunities, others seek unique academic or linguistic boost to their education, and a negative review about lax academics might actually incentivize a prospective participant who reads it, for example. There is the divergence of interpretation between the parent who is often the (paying) customer and the student who is the (participating) consumer. Moreover, since most students accept the programs offered by their academic institution anyway, is there any need to look to reviews for a “competitive” advantage? Is it better for the provider to limit reviews to private evaluations to determine that the program meets the organization’s goals? All these are valid, and this reflection intends to do no more or less than consider the state of research on online reviews as presented in the meta-analysis by Floyd et al., to suggest the impact these findings could have on study abroad programs, and finally to highlight the need for further research into these and many other questions specific to study abroad.

The studies included in Floyd et al.’s analysis consider the impact of online reviews on the sale of hotel rooms, books, movies, digital cameras, craft beer, video games, music albums, audio and video players, DVDs, TV shows, and video game consoles (219). The key finding was that online reviews do have an influence on sales across the board. The impact was significantly greater than shelf space elasticity, personal selling elasticity, and both long-term and short-term sales elasticities. In fact, the only factor they measured that had a greater influence on sales was price (219). While not surprising it is meaningful to find such consistency across a wide range of studies and products. What is surprising is the indication that electronic word of mouth has actually overtaken more traditional sources of information. The authors reference a study made over five countries that asked shoppers to indicate the most important sources of information they use to make a purchase decision. Online ratings and reviews were number one (52%), above advice from family and friends (49%), and far beyond advice from store employees (12%) (Cisco 2013). This indicates a major shift in the way people make purchasing decisions, with increasing trust in people they’ve never met exceeding close personal relations.

Advice from friends and family has already been an imperfect solution for those considering study abroad. Because study abroad is experienced by around 10% of undergraduate student, and even less for the generation of their adult family members or friends (IIE, Open Doors Data, 2015), there is often little opportunity for a decision maker, whether student or parent, to find pertinent advice from a familiar source. This is even truer when seeking information about a specific program. The best option before the days of the internet was often to speak with someone who studied abroad, perhaps on an entirely different sort of program, and be told to either “go for it” or not. Thus, in the context of study abroad, online reviews seem likely to not simply overtake advice from friends and family, and rather to fill a void that was never adequately met by traditional word of mouth. This perspective is all the stronger when considering the importance of “product involvement” (discussed below) and the age group of study abroad participants being more reliant on online information (age of consumer was not a factor considered in the meta-analysis).

Beyond personal relationships, the obvious place to get information about specific study abroad programs is the study abroad office. Despite clear differences this is comparable to “advice from store employees,” which was a distant third with only 12% of shoppers mentioning it as a decision-making factor. Of course study abroad professionals are seen as being more knowledgeable and trustworthy than a commission-driven store employee, but these findings speak to the overall societal wariness of marketing or perceived ulterior motives, and encouragement to participate from a study abroad professional is not processed the same way as feedback from a former participant.

Similarly, looking at various types of online hosts for reviews, Floyd et al. found that “reviews appearing on a third-party website have significantly higher sales elasticities than those appearing on seller websites” (226). Especially when considering the products in question, this rings true, since few of us would give equal weight to praise splashed across a brand’s website compared to non-filtered reviews. Further research needs to be done to determine if this plays out differently when prospective participants visit the homepage of a study abroad office and interpret quotes from previous participants. Doubtless there is more trust between the university office and the “insider” student than between a traditional seller and buyer, but if a third-party source of reviews were found to be consistent with the information published by the study abroad office then trust would be bolstered.

Providing multiple sources for reviews and information is especially advisable in light of the final conclusion of the meta-analysis concerning “product involvement.” Product involvement is defined as “a consumer’s enduring perceptions of a product category’s importance,” especially regarding monetary investment but including factors such as time, importance, and risk (224). The authors found that “consumers engage in extensive (limited) online search for products that are more (less) involving, which they associate with higher (lower) perceived risk” (228). The authors use the example of the purchase of a digital camera as a high-involvement decision, but by their definition few “products” could be more involving then a study abroad program. Because of the unique nature of study abroad as a purchasing decision, more research is needed to confirm that consumer habits follow the same logic in this industry. The reliance on reviews might be specific to more price-sensitive decision-makers, or to those who are the first in their family to go abroad, etc. If it is shown that potential study abroad participants follow these general consumer trends then we can expect them to spend more time reading more reviews and to be more influenced by their content than for almost any other purchasing decision.

As consumers increasingly look to the internet for decision-making information and become more selective about where they place their trust, greater research needs to be done about the influence on the industry of study abroad. Do decision makers approach study abroad in a similar way as other purchasing decisions? Are certain demographics more likely to seek out online reviews, and how do they interpret what they read? Are reviews more impactful depending on program cost or length (greater “involvement”)? As college applicants increasingly look to online university ratings and even professor ratings, is there any sign that students are evaluating study abroad programs as part of their choice of university?

The temptation is to see study abroad as a less competitive environment and thus less impacted by reviews, but another perspective is to see competition between students participating in study abroad or not. With the goal of using as many tools as possible to increase lead conversion, there is much merit in considering how electronic word of mouth could tip the scales.

– Caleb House

About the Author:

Caleb House is Abroad101’s Social Media Editor.  Caleb grew up in Northern California and has lived in the Czech Republic, Japan, India, Tanzania, France, South Korea, Germany, and Côte d’Ivoire as a student, teacher, volunteer, backpacker, researcher, and administrator. He holds graduate degrees in Modern Global History from Jacobs University Bremen and in International Management from the Burgundy School of Business. He recently married his soulmate in her tiny village in France, and the two currently find themselves in Washington D.C. He is preparing the launch of his website,, and in the meantime can be contacted with questions on his Facebook page “How to Go Abroad” or on Twitter @HowToGoAbroad.  



Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (2013), Catch and Keep Digital Shoppers,

Keep-the-Digital-Shopper PoV.pdf

Floyd, Kristopher; Freling, Ryan; Alhoqail, Saad; Cho, Hyun Young; Freling, Traci; How Online Product Reviews Affect Retail Sales: A Meta-analysis, Journal of Retailing 90 (2, 2014) 217–232

Notess, Greg R. (2000), Consumers’ Revenge: Online Product Reviews and Ratings, Web Wanderings.

IIE (2015), Open Doors Data Highlights,




Abroad101 Advisors Newsletter – Spring 2016

Abroad101-reviews-logo-webWe appreciate you taking a few minutes from your busy day to catch up on the happenings at Abroad101, the first and largest study abroad review website.  As we wrap up another semester, we start by reminding you to send review invites to returning students through your account on Abroad101.  You can also guide your students to start their reviews here:

The Latest Study Abroad Rankings:

For the fifth year, Abroad101 has tallied student reviews and produced “The 2015 Study Abroad Rankings.”  The rankings recognize the study abroad programs and locations rated highest by American students who have studied abroad in the last year. The rankings also reflect the dynamic nature of study abroad and identify up-and-coming destinations and program types in addition to top programs and providers.  From this year’s data we found that big cities are in, programs are touring, and more American students are studying abroad on programs coordinated by their home universities.

You can read the press release or view the latest rankings

As advisors, you can help improve the study abroad rankings by encouraging your students to tell their story and submit a review.  Each review counts toward the rankings and contributes insight about the whole of study abroad: from academics to food and from cost to the friendliness of the destination.  Please remember, rankings are an indicator of quality, not a measure of quality, and it is in the spirit of transparency that we publish the rankings. 

Review and Parents: Helping Set Expectations:

About 25% of the visitors to Abroad101 are parents searching for more insight into their children’s options. It is no secret that parents are increasingly involved in their children’s college education, and study abroad is no exception.  Reviews are a good way to redirect parents’ inquiries about programs and also as tool to help set expectations about a particular host university, host country, or provider.  Each Abroad101 review has 38 questions including star ratings on 9 different program aspects.  Put a review in front of a family and you’ll see the eyes of the student got to the social (or food) ratings, the mother to the safety ratings and a father to cost ratings.  This is more than just a stereotype; it demonstrates that reviews serve multiple audiences and deliver multiple perspectives.  Abroad101’s reviews are designed to foster conversation around the options and build a better sense of awareness before making the final choice.  As the old adage goes “An educated consumer is the best customer.”  For mom and dad, they think of study abroad as a product and themselves as a consumer.  Considering everything else that is rated and ranked it is only natural for parents and students to consider study abroad reviews.

Reviews and Re-entry:

Often we hear that it is hard to get students to do anything, let alone spend 20-30 minutes on a review.  This is especially true when students feel that the activity has no benefit for them.  However, they are inclined to share their stories if the exercise gives them a chance to tell their story, and that is exactly what they do on social media for hours a day! 

If the student believes the review is good for them, they will generally participate.  That takes some groundwork before they go abroad and as they prepare to return.  One idea to get more engagement is to incorporate a review in your re-entry programming and use the review process as a step toward preparing the students to share their experience with others.  Just like career counselors who tell students to prepare a good resume for a job search, we hope that study abroad advisors will help their students prepare for their return home by guiding them to submitting a thorough and candid review.

If you have a formal re-entry process, you can tie that to your Abroad101 results in a number of ways.  Within your account dashboard you can export the reviews of your students.  Those reviews have an email address and a serial number.  You can enter that serial number in your enrollment or student information systems to fulfill a requirement, or you can create a process for the student to do so.  If you are using Terra Dotta for example, we encourage you to tie the returnee phase to a questionnaire with that serial number.  Read more about linking Abroad101 and Terra Dotta Software.

What can be Better than Abroad101’s Free Software?

Since 2007, Abroad101 has been suggesting that program evaluations and online reviews can be the same thing.  A number of colleges and universities have already adopted Abroad101 as their program evaluation platform.  Today Abroad101 is the largest publisher of these powerful study abroad testimonials, yet some institutions feel that the system isn’t right for their needs.

To serve the market better we created Abroad201, a combination of software and services that provides a full range of customization and publishing options for your program evaluations.  With Abroad201 you can take those paper-based forms and turn them into meaningful data.  You can manage the publication of some or all of the reviews to wherever you want them displayed and whomever you want them shared with.  You can take the results and turn them into reports, benchmark them as you choose, and greatly enhance your reporting capabilities.

Abroad201 is a cloud-based software program and service with fees that vary depending on the level of service.  Abroad101 is free software that will remain standard in function and purpose.  Pick whichever tools meet your budget and your goals.  If you’re interested in learning more about Abroad201, please visit the new product website and sign up for a presentation call or an online demo.

Talk to us:

For those of you attending NAFSA, please stop by and say hello.  We’ll be at Booth #1133.

Every university has an account on Abroad101.  If you’d like more details on accessing yours with the option of a private online web demo, please contact


Happy Spring!

Mark Shay

Abroad101  /  +1-610-357-4648  /

Abroad101 Releases the Latest Study Abroad Rankings

rankings header

Big cities are in, programs are touring, and more American students are studying abroad on programs coordinated by their home universities. These are some of the statistics revealed in this year’s study abroad rankings by Abroad101.

New York (April 6, 2016) – Abroad101, producers of America’s first and largest study abroad review website, released the fifth annual Study Abroad Rankings today highlighting the success of international education. The rankings recognize the study abroad programs and locations rated highest by American students who have studied abroad in the last year. The rankings also reflect the dynamic nature of study abroad and identify up-and-coming destinations and program types in addition to top programs and providers.

Notable in this year’s rankings was a shift in popularity toward programs operating in big cities, especially in Europe, which hosted 12 of the top 16 programs. The broad reach of study abroad is reflected in the Top 5, which featured programs in China, Czech Republic, Spain, Costa Rica, and Australia. In addition to rating programs, the Study Abroad Rankings also identify the “Most Livable Cities.” Students are currently favoring large cities, contrary to last year’s rankings featuring smaller college towns.

The Top Ten Most Livable Cities for study abroad are:

  1. London
  2. Florence
  3. Rome
  4. Beijing
  5. Paris
  6. Dublin
  7. Madrid
  8. San Jose, Costa Rica
  9. Sydney
  10. Gold Coast, Australia

Since students often attend programs run by organizations outside of their home university, the Study Abroad Rankings also identify the Top Study Abroad Providers:

  1. The Education Abroad Network (TEAN)
  2. IES Abroad
  3. Sol Education Abroad
  4. API (Academic Programs International)
  5. The Asia Institute
  6. ISA (International Studies Abroad)
  7. Loyola University Chicago
  8. CEA
  9. IBS (International Business Seminars)
  10. CAPA: The Global Education Network
  11. AIFS
  12. SAI Programs
  13. IFSA-Butler
  14. CISabroad (Center for International Studies)
  15. USAC

With more than 1,700 evaluations published on Abroad101, IES Abroad has received the most reviews of any provider and an overall rating of 4.6/5. The quality and quantity of these student reviews demonstrate the success of IES Abroad, crowning the company as a top provider as well as host of two top programs. CEO of IES Abroad Mary Dwyer stated, “At IES Abroad, we are dedicated to increasing accessibility to study abroad, while maintaining the highest levels of academic excellence and student health and safety in the field. We greatly value student feedback, and appreciate so many of our alumni taking the time to share their authentic program experiences with others.”

Student feedback like this is used by advisors to help future students find programs. Each year Abroad101 highlights destinations for the budget conscious; these rankings are often dictated by shifts in currency.

This year’s list Budget Friendly” Study Abroad Destinations:

  1. India
  2. China
  3. Tanzania
  4. Morocco
  5. Thailand
  6. Czech Republic
  7. Peru
  8. Ecuador
  9. Ghana
  10. Chile

Also highlighted in the rankings are “Top Non-Traditional Countries for more             intrepid students:

  1. Ghana
  2. Cuba
  3. Tanzania
  4. Turkey
  5. Morocco
  6. Switzerland
  7. Russia
  8. Romania
  9. Jordan
  10. United Arab Emirates

The overall top program honors go to Loyola University Chicago and The Beijing Center. According to Katie Rooney, Senior University Relations Coordinator, “The Beijing Center has it all – top-notch academics, unique travel experiences, immersion with the local community, and an array of co-curricular activities that really round out the student experience. Students have the opportunity to make the most of their time in China, and they can’t stop talking about it when they come back.”

The Top Study Abroad Programs are:

  1. Loyola University Chicago: The Beijing Center
  2. UPCES – Study Abroad in Prague
  3. IES Abroad: Study Abroad in Granada
  4. Sol Education Abroad: Heredia – Universidad Latina de Costa Rica
  5. The Education Abroad Network (TEAN): Gold Coast – Bond University
  6. API: Lorenzo de Medici , The Italian International Institute
  7. CEA: Rome, Italy
  8. Round River Conservation Studies – Patagonia, Chile Program
  9. CAPA The Global Education Network: Dublin – Study or Intern Abroad
  10. IES Abroad: Study in Amsterdam
  11. European Study Center: Study Abroad in the EU
  12. DIS Copenhagen: Semester
  13. Regent’s University London: Study Abroad in London
  14. University of Evansville: Study abroad at Harlaxton College
  15. PRESHCO: Study Abroad in Cordoba, Spain
  16. Sant’Anna Institute: Sorrento – Live, Learn and Immerse in Italy

The rankings also reflect the ongoing change in study abroad with the rise of several specialty programs and providers and a wide variety of program formats. “Study abroad continues to be a dynamic field with innovative offerings from a steady flow of new organizations” says Mark Shay, CEO of Abroad101. “This year’s rankings give prime examples of this shift as we see the popularity of touring programs rise as well as programs offered through partnerships between universities and providers. We also see the rise in popularity of internships as part of study abroad program formats.” To see the full list of Top Study Abroad Programs, click here –

Students continue to flock to summer study abroad programs, and this year’s “Top Summer Programs” list includes an incredibly diverse mix of options and destinations featuring The GREEN Program as the top choice. Founder Melissa Lee states, “As a millennial-driven company, we are thrilled that GREEN alumni champion our fresh take to study abroad. Created by students, for students, we strive to provide social impact-minded participants with the career-enhancing global experiences that not only fit into their rigorous academic schedules, but also allow them to check awe-inspiring adventures and authentic cultural experiences off their bucket lists.”

There is no better way to get to know a new culture than tasting fresh, local food, and with over 300,000 American college-age students studying abroad each year, Abroad101 pays homage to millennial foodie culture by highlight “Top Foodie Cities.” Four of the top ten cities were in Italy (Florence, Rome, Milan, and Bologna), another two were in France (Paris, Aix-en-Provence), and two were in China (Beijing, Shanghai). These delicious destinations go above and beyond by winning students’ hearts, minds, and mouths as part of this high-impact educational experience.

“We produce the study abroad rankings as a way to overcome some of the objections that parents and families may have and hope that highlighting other aspects of the experience will bring more students to experience different cultures and different perspectives” says Mark Shay, the CEO of Abroad101. “Young, open minds are the key to a peaceful and prosperous future and giving them the chance to have cultural immersion experiences is life changing. We need more students to study abroad and it is the mission of Abroad101 to capture these life-changing accounts and publish them. Our tools help capture these personal triumphs and turn alumni stories into examples of the benefits of study abroad so that we can draw more students abroad” concludes Shay.


About Abroad101:

Founded in 2007, Abroad101 is the first and largest study abroad review website and program evaluation software. This innovative platform serves past and future students, parents and advisors through its market-leading online evaluation tool. Under the direction of their academic advisors or program providers, students complete thorough online evaluations hosted by Abroad101 with both quantitative and qualitative responses. For the 2015 rankings, more than 6 thousand evaluations were processed and 1,262 different programs received reviews.

To learn more, visit