Consumer reviewers trump professional reviewers as the key purchase influencers, according to the just released Buy It, Try It, Rate It study from Weber Shandwick. The study shows that the majority (65 percent) of potential consumer electronics purchasers are inspired by a consumer review to select a brand that had not been in their original consideration set.
The study also revealed that there is power in numbers, as the average buyer consults 11 consumer reviews on the path to purchase.
"We know consumer reviewers are a powerful force," said Bradford Williams, president of Weber Shandwick's North American technology practice, in a news release. "Now we know that they are the most powerful force. Savvy marketers are the ones who listen to, manage and deploy consumer reviewers to harness their considerable might at the cash register."
The online study was conducted by KRC Research in September 2012. A total of 2,004 American adults who recently made one or more purchases of consumer electronics were surveyed to understand how they're using reviews to make buying decisions and the impact of consumer-generated product reviews on sales results.
"The increasing impact of consumer reviews on sales means that marketers must learn how to effectively manage the flood of online opinion engulfing shoppers," said Williams. "Online user reviews are transforming buying decisions. Our study sheds new light on why, how and when shoppers use both user reviews as well as traditional editorial reviews in the purchase process."
Williams noted that while consumer electronics buyers pay more attention to other consumers' reviews than to editorial reviews — by a margin of more than three to one (77 percent vs. 23 percent) — a majority are concerned about the authenticity of consumer reviews (80 percent), leading them to conduct considerable analysis before making their decision.
- Consumers navigate a maze of information. Their journey for knowledge about consumer electronics includes several stops along the decision path. Buyers invest deliberate effort into making a well-informed decision – conducting multiple activities to gather opinions, reading an average of 11 consumer reviews, evaluating review authenticity and even demonstrating tolerance for negative reviews.
- Reviews sharpen the decision process. While consumers consider themselves knowledgeable about consumer electronics, they rely heavily on reviews during the decision-making process. Nearly nine in 10 consumers (88 percent) say they are somewhat or very knowledgeable about consumer electronics, yet still consult reviews, consumer and/or professional (60 percent and 52 percent, respectively), when looking to make a purchase.
- Consumer reviews trump professional reviews. Consumers report that they pay more attention to consumer reviews (77 percent) than professional critic reviews (23 percent). The gap between consumer and professional reviews closes noticeably, but not entirely, for more advanced technologies like tablets and computers.
- Not all reviews are rated equally. The most influential reviews include certain elements. In consumer reviews, the most helpful ones are those that seem fair and reasonable (32 percent), are well written (27 percent) and contain statistics, specifications and technical data (25 percent). Surprisingly, named (vs. anonymous) reviews are not as important as these other elements in consumers' minds.
- Consumers trust the reviews that they find on popular websites — even if that website itself is in the business of selling consumer electronics products. Shoppers trust consumer reviews on Amazon.com (84 percent) and BestBuy.com (75 percent) the most, topping Consumer Reports (72 percent). Consumers show no apparent discomfort in getting their research from a seller of the products they're considering.
Five Rules of Engagement for Consumer Electronics Marketers
- Corral informative reviews – include a representative sampling onto the product website to assist consumers in simplifying the process and reducing the likelihood they'll be distracted by a competitor's product. To help address skepticism about the authenticity of reviews, adopt and publicly announce a policy restricting employees from commenting or contributing to customer reviews.
- Design product marketing pages using the format of a reviews site, not marketing collateral, where consumers can get the information they so fervently seek as they make buying decisions.
- Encourage customers to review new products on consumer review sites and on the product site, but ensure dedicated resources are in place to engage with reviewers online. Companies need dedicated resources to manage social network communities for purposes that go beyond branded content. An online community manager should be encouraging customers to review products, disseminating positive customer and professional reviews through social channels, and working in tandem with customer service to respond to customer feedback or issues quickly.
- Marketers can't directly influence user reviews, but they can identify those reviews with the potential to have the most impact and post them to their own product websites, online forums and social network sites. Marketers should not necessarily discredit anonymous reviews.
- Recognize that consumers visit shopping sites for reviews and information at various points in their buying journey, not just to check a price or to click and buy. The product information on online shopping sites should be as helpful and engaging as possible, employing video content, product feature charts and similar elements whenever possible.