Online Customer Reviews Becoming Bigger Purchase Driver

Discussion
May 03, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

According to a new survey from e-tailing group and PowerReviews, online shoppers are taking more time reading customer reviews before making purchase decisions. They are also reading more reviews to gain confidence.

Of the 1,000 respondents, 64 percent of the online shoppers spend 10+ minutes reading reviews, compared with 50 percent who did so in 2007, according to marketingprofs.com. Thirty-nine percent said they read eight or more reviews to be confident in judging a product (vs. 22 percent in 2007) and 12 percent say they read 16+ reviews (vs. five percent in 2007).

Overall, 64 percent said they consistently read online reviews prior to making product purchase decisions. When asked what website capabilities or features most influence product selection and purchase decisions, customer reviews and product ratings was the top selected answer (72 percent). That was closely followed by customer service information (69 percent), third-party buying category guides and expert opinions (64 percent). Top-rated product lists, as rated by customers, were named by 60 percent.

Other findings from the survey:

  • When asked what community or social media tools have the greatest impact on their buying behavior, customer reviews ranked first (71 percent.) That was followed by Q&A (customers asking/answering questions on site) at 57 percent; community forums (45 percent), and Facebook wall (31 percent).
  • Over one-half (57 percent) of online shoppers say they trust customer reviews, but only to corroborate other information. Some 35 percent, however, think they might be biased and only six percent trust reviews completely and more than other source.
  • Asked what degrades their trust in reviews, not enough reviews (50 percent) ranked first, followed by doubts that they are written by real customers (39 percent); lack of negative reviews (38 percent), positive reviews always positioned first (25 percent) and lack of information about reviewer (23 percent).

Discussion Questions: How critical a purchase-driver do you believe customer reviews and rankings are becoming for e-commerce? What else can retailers be doing to capitalize on interest in customer reviews? Are there feasible ways to better capitalize on customer reviews at the store level?

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14 Comments on "Online Customer Reviews Becoming Bigger Purchase Driver"


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Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 12 days ago

In an age of too much information and choice, consumers are desperately seeking a ‘helping hand’. Consumer reviews are incredibly powerful. For fun, look at epicurious.com and see how cooks rate recipes and make comments. Do you think anyone would make a recipe rated with only 1 out of 4 forks? On the other hand, everyone looks at the top rated recipes.

Dig into retail, and look at how powerful that 4.5 out of 5 consumer rating is on a drill you’re looking to buy online at Home Depot.

This whole topic gets to the wonderful heart of this new online world that puts consumers back in charge. Before, brands could use mass media to scream their message and convince you they were the best choice. No longer. Now consumers speak up, share ideas, and listen to each other more than anyone else. It’s now about providing a great customer experience … great products and great service together.

Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 12 days ago

As with most things intended to be persuasive in our world – political speeches, advertising, book testimonials, research and even sermons – there is a great deal of skepticism about customer comments. So the fact that only 6% actually trust customer comments is very telling. It’d be interesting to know what % of supposed comments are honestly unsolicited and what are ‘set up’. Of course we learned long ago that if you’re going to fake the customer comments you put in just a hint of discontent.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 12 days ago
We used to ask friends and family (what we refer to as grandmother research) what their experiences had been with a product, retailers, etc., but now more and more people are considering the comments of strangers before making a purchase decision. The web has made it possible to conduct “research” with strangers (other private citizens and “experts”) without having to actually ask them – they post their thoughts and you can pursue them at your leisure. As more people have faith in the posting, the more important this form of research will grow. The fundamental issue is can you trust the postings? Are these people/experts being paid to say nice things? A different question may be “Is the information about the product/service, etc. any less positively biased than that being offered by the salesperson who is trying to sell me at retail”? As the belief that the postings are honest opinions grows, retailers may elect to use them in the same way we used to see signs such as “as seen on TV” being used.… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 12 days ago

I came within minutes of accepting a new Blackberry Curve model until I read in review after review: poor battery life, no flash in the camera, very tiny keys. I ended up saying thanks but no thanks. Real reviews are as important as any other qualitative research. Directionally important.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 12 days ago

Loyalty (true loyalty) is driven by a comprehensive understanding of your customers and their comments. The fact that only 6% put merit in them is somewhat telling. Voice of the Customer is very important to the merchants, but with all of the noise and clutter in the channel it is getting harder to clear out the true value.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
11 years 12 days ago

The mobile web is a great source of instant customer reviews.

I have an iPhone 3Gs and have tried four different, and free, barcode reader applications. Some of them use location services to pinpoint my location. A simple scan of the product that I’m about to buy finds me competitive prices and customer reviews. The reviews are sometimes included with the price and sometimes on their own sites.

You can now read customer reviews standing in the aisle on demand. If you’re a retailer, try your own research from your store and then from your local competitor to get a feeling of what your shoppers are seeing.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 12 days ago
The question that was posed was how important are customer reviews when it comes to online purchases or e-commerce. But in fact it is bigger than that. Customer reviews are playing a major role in all purchases, not simply those purchases of products online. Recent studies indicate that more and more consumers are researching all products online prior to making the purchase, whether that purchase is being made in a brick and mortar store, or an online seller. Major CPG brands have to invest the proper amount of money to keep their ears on, and set up various listening posts around the internet. They need to hear what people are saying about their brands, and know how to react to the negative reviews before they gain viral status. As well, when positive reviews are issued, the brands need to embrace these reviewers, acknowledge them, and thank them. It goes a long way to building solid brand loyalty. Retailers need to learn the same lessons here. It is not enough to simply provide great customer service.… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 12 days ago

Love them or hate them, everyone’s using customer comments when reserving a hotel room or purchasing shoes online. In a world where the retailer doesn’t offer much help, it’s nice to know that there are other shoppers there to step in.

Doug Pruden
Guest
Doug Pruden
11 years 12 days ago

Consumers are learning that publicly posted reviews can provide insight that they won’t get from the companies themselves. I doubt these comments can replace the opinions and recommendations that buyers get from trusted friends, relatives, neighbors, or co-workers, but they surely are providing a more objective source of information than corporate websites or advertising.

Were respondents in this study thinking about corporate websites alone or public review websites when they responded to the research questions? Unfortunately, while some corporate websites publish all reviews (whether negative or positive) it is becoming more widely recognized that others edit, delete, load positive comments, and have staff write negative remarks on competitors’ sites. The situation is becoming even more complex as some corporations now pay high profile bloggers and Tweeters to comment about their products and services.

Will trust in posted reviews from strangers continue to provide value and grow in use? In many ways it will depend upon how honestly corporations treat the process.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
11 years 12 days ago
As I read the article and some of the comments I began to ask myself what value I place on comments of others before agreeing to purchase. The answer depends on where I am leaning in the buying curve. If I am leaning more to purchasing, the positive responses will solidify my decision. On the other hand if I am leaning toward not purchasing, the positive comments will not make me change my mind. I am often looking for validity and confirmation. If I get it, I buy. If I do not get it; I do not buy and look for a better product. Current generation cell phones are a good example. For the life of me I can not type on a virtual keypad and continue to use the BlackBerry until something comes along making my life away from my laptop easier. I read online that a product possibly meeting my “lack of skill” could be released soon. I sure hope so. So I am waiting for something I know little about because I… Read more »
Chuck Palmer
Guest
11 years 12 days ago
The role of third-party opinion in human decision-making is very important. That importance increases as the gravity of the decision increases. Interestingly, it is human nature to work through levels of investigation and then seek opinion to–consciously or unconsciously–confirm what has more or less been decided. I can find opinions about Sunday brunch spots and laptop computers. How far will I go before I make an actual purchase? That depends on a variety of values and situational attributes. Is brunch with my mom and family or is it a cure for a hangover with my buddies? Is the laptop for client presentations or gaming at home? Did I get drunk with my mom and clients while presenting on my laptop? Seriously, my point here is that we as consumers have more purchasing confidence today than any other time in history because we have access to this information. It is incumbent on us marketers to provide as many credible and authentic ways as possible for consumers to find and use the information in the way they… Read more »
Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
11 years 12 days ago

Our trust in peer reviews continues to grow, particularly in younger shoppers. Corporate and celebrity ads are not as persuasive–real life experience from users is a true driver in many purchase decisions. Most shoppers can tell the “real consumers” and if there are are more than a few reviews, they often balance out. Key features of a product, and their performance to expectations described by peer users can make or break a decision.

Hotel reviews have helped many people decide whether to spend time and money at an unknown location–a very powerful influence.

Retailers would be well advised to understand how their products/services are perceived and judged by online shoppers, enable transparency and discussion, and learn from the commentary provided.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
11 years 11 days ago

I’m surprised by the results of the survey as I have read that skepticism exists by consumers over the veracity of reviews.

Using Amazon as an example, some book reviews can be deciphered as biased in a number of ways and I not only read the content of the review, but evaluate the overall appearance and structure of content as well as transparency of the contributor.

I would have expected that Facebook would yield the perception of more pure opinion as the opinions are brief and the ensuing strings often validate or refute a comment.

Twitter has too much self promotion ongoing to generate trust on product reviews and I am not surprised that they fall last on the list.

The space is evolving. User contributed reviews should be the best source of opinion and maybe now that content is fulfilling potential.

Gregory Belkin
Guest
Gregory Belkin
11 years 11 days ago

The results of the survey are not all that surprising, and are in line with Aberdeen data on this subject as well. As consumers continue to scrutinize each purchase, it is logical that they are try to absorb as much product information as possible. Social reviews may not be the be all and end all of a final purchase decision, but they are likely to have an effect on the outcome.

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