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The value of online reviews for shoppers

The value of online reviews for shoppers David Day
With the explosion of user-generated content and an empowered, vocal consumer, just how do shoppers use online product reviews? In a recent survey, Lightspeed Research asked people how they use reviews, if they post reviews themselves and which authors they trust the most. Are there particular products and services for which they use them most frequently? How many negative reviews would people need to read before changing their purchase decision? The survey revealed some surprising results and suggests how brands should be responding to the continuing growth of online reviews.

According to the results of our online survey of 1000 people carried out in August, 72 per cent of British consumers read a review for a product or service on the Internet in the last 30 days. 37 per cent had read a review in the last week. At 75 per cent men were slightly more likely than women (69 per cent) to read online reviews. Perhaps surprisingly, the youngest people in our survey, 18-24 year olds, refer to them less than others at only 63 per cent compared to 71-76 per cent for the respondents aged 25+. 

Personal technology products and utility services are the most read online reviews
In terms of products, it is the personal technology sector where online reviews are sought the most. 71 per cent of all respondents said they would read a review before making a purchase decision about a new camera, MP3 player or mobile phone. White goods such as washing machines and fridges came next at 64 per cent, followed by computer software and hardware at 57 per cent. Despite their significantly higher price, cars ranked fourth with just over half (54 per cent) of all respondents looking at online reviews -- with no difference in this category by gender. Reviews of DVDs, CDs and books were read the least often.

For services, online reviews of utility suppliers are read by 65 per cent of all respondents. At 63 per cent, men are most likely to refer to reviews of ISPs whilst at 61 per cent women were more likely to read reviews of banks and financial service providers.

Sourcing online reviews
Respondents cited a wide range of sources of reviews, from search engines at the top, to shopping websites like Amazon, Comet and play.com, and to shopping comparison websites like Pricerunner. Specialist websites offering reviews such as CNET as well as forums and blogs were also popular destinations. Magazines and newspapers were the least used sources of reviews. Older consumers were most likely to turn to a search engine to find a review, whilst younger users were happier reading reviews on online forums, blogs and magazines.

Three strikes and you're out!
With so many consumers seeking out reviews on a wide range of products and services as part of their research before purchasing, it is no surprise that they have a strong influence on consumer decision-making. A third (33 per cent) of respondents said they would be dissuaded from buying a product after reading just two negative reviews and 75 per cent of respondents would be deterred from buying after reading three bad reviews.

Writing to reach you
32 per cent of respondents have posted a review online. The good news for marketers is that 82 per cent of these reviews were positive -- with women tending to write more favourable reviews than men. One-third of people said they would be more likely to write a review regarding a negative experience, with 18-24 year olds much more likely to do so than other age groups.

Which? -- the most trusted source of online reviews
Whilst people are reading reviews from a wide range of sources, the most trusted was the consumer advice body Which? at 75 per cent. In an age of user-generated content, consumers rely on the opinions of strangers -- 58 per cent said other consumers were either 'very trusted' or 'trusted' sources of information. Professional reviewers employed by publications and websites were at the bottom of the list.

It is clear from this research that many consumers rely on reviews and actively make decisions to buy or not to buy based on them. The concerns that some companies have about allowing consumers to post unedited reviews on their sites are of course genuine -- people are more likely to write about a negative experience even though the vast majority of consumers say they write positive reviews.

The findings suggest that when a company does receive negative reviews about a product or service they need to listen to the feedback and act on it to improve matters. Suppressing information simply isn't an answer in today's world of forums, blogs and review sites because even if it's not on the brand's website, the information is definitely out there and accessible. Those companies that have taken the plunge and enabled customers to post reviews are definitely giving customers a service they want and use -- and will benefit from increased consumer confidence and trust in their products and services as a result.

David Day is CEO Europe, Lightspeed Research.

David began his commercial career in 1988 at AC Nielsen (UK) as Director of Operations. Prior to joining Lightspeed Research, David served as Managing Director for NetRatings, Europe, Middle East and Africa since 2003. David brings a depth of...

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