According to a new Mintel flagship report, American Lifestyles 2015, “constantly connected” Americans not only use the internet to stay connected to work, family and friends, but 69% seek out advice and opinions on goods and services before purchasing. Of those who seek out advice, shoppers are equally likely to visit user review sites or independent review sites before making a purchase (70%), while 57% use social media networks for recommendations.
The collective intelligence of online review sites and social media has allowed consumers to get a second opinion and validate their choices, while others are using their networks as a starting point in their buying process for bigger ticket items or in areas for which they lack expertise. 63% of technology review seekers use independent review sites and 61% of vacation destinations review seekers consult user review sites.
The connected collective may have a stronger influence than individual preference, says the report, as purchases ultimately reflect collective input from a variety of sources.
Fiona O’Donnell, Lifestyles Category Manager at Mintel, says “… even the simple act of buying staple household products can be overwhelming to those who have yet to build brand loyalties or those who prefer to try out the latest products… consumers are looking to peers and strangers alike to glean from their opinions and experiences… to validate choices made and avoid feelings of buyer’s remorse… ”
When faced with a difficult question, or product choice, the internet is often the first place many Americans turn to for research and opinions, says the report. 69% of respondents, including 81% of 18-34 year-olds, seek out opinions from others before purchasing.
72% of opinion-seekers age 25-34 look to social media contacts for recommendations when purchasing goods and services. Online user review sites are the most popular resource for opinion-seekers in this age range while seekers aged 35+ are more likely to put their trust in independent review sites.
However, social media contact recommendations hold weight for many demographics, including 72% of opinion-seekers age 25-34 and 46% of those age 45-54. Consumers view online review content with some skepticism, however, as only 59% trust recommendations if there are a large number of reviews, and 57% are suspicious of products with only positive reviews.
Personal recommendations from friends and family still trump reviews from unknown contacts. 54% of respondents agree that they would try a product with negative online reviews, if recommended by someone they know, though consumers remain skeptical of those that look too good to be true. Unsurprisingly, online reviews are the most impactful for consumers age 25-34, likely the most tech-savvy age group. However, overall, data shows that the majority of respondents age 18-54 agree that online reviews help in their decision making process.
The research shows that there appears to be some correlation between agreement that online reviews help in the decision making process and agreement that opinions posted to review pages are from “people like me.” 63% of consumers age 25-44 agreed that opinions posted to company review pages are from people like them.
The technology category boasts the largest number of opinion seekers at 43%. This is likely due to the rapidly changing nature of the category and expertise required to thoroughly understand the products, driving consumers to do research before making a purchase.
The vacation (41%) and dining out (33%) categories also have highest percentages of opinion seekers attributed to the experiential aspects of dining and travel, says the report. These categories lend themselves to online reviews because they engage all of the senses, providing a wealth of information to discuss and critique when writing or reading a review.
O’Donnell continued “… the data shows that useful and positive review content is important to drive awareness, interest, and sales, specifically for products that may be higher priced than others in the same category.
Independent review sites are considered the most useful (34%) and the most trustworthy (38%) of the sources evaluated. User review sites are perceived to be nearly as useful as independent review sites (33%), but not nearly as trustworthy (24%).
User reviews may be helpful, but consumers could be of the impression that reviewers might have biases, and are therefore putting greater trust in the independent sites, concludes the report. Overall, social media sites do not rank highly for usefulness or trustworthiness.
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