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Ralph Risk, marketing director, Lightspeed Research Europe

Comparing prices online is an almost universal practice among our online panel. According to research carried out in March, online shoppers rely heavily on peer reviews when researching prospective purchases. Yet despite the popularity of social networks, they aren’t really keen on relying on online friends for opinions.

Our research shows that 68% of respondents believe it’s important that a product has good reviews from other consumers, while a third (33%) said this is very important. Professional reviews and those from Which? are also influential (see graph). When it comes to services, such reviews also score highly, with 55% of those questioned saying it’s important a service has a good review from Which?, and 50% thinking it’s important a service has good reviews from professional reviewers on websites or in a newspaper.

Despite their mass appeal, social networks aren’t currently considered a useful resource for pre-purchase research. A mere 14% of respondents regard good reviews from online friends as important. This lack of influence of social networks on purchasing decisions is further reflected by the fact that only 7% of respondents refer to them for product reviews. It’s shopping sites and search engines that are the first port of call for consumers looking for product reviews.

Many respondents are heavily influenced by negative reviews, most saying they’d change their minds about a product or service after reading up to three. And the older generation is even more sensitive: a third of 55-64-year-olds (33%) say they’d change their mind after only two negative reviews, compared to 10% of 18-24-year-olds.

When researching personal technology purchases, just half of respondents said they go to a high street store to look at the different options, falling to 39% of 18-24-year-olds. By contrast, 81% of all respondents said they compare prices online, and 71% said they always research brands or models online before making a purchase.

While 49% had posted reviews online, either positive or negative, our results indicate that encouraging consumers to post reviews and brand experiences on social networks may miss the majority of consumers who are researching online. Respondents wanted to use these sites for communicating with friends and family. Brands should take note.

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Published 31 March, 2011 by NMA Staff

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