Only 13% say they had not done online pre-purchase research, price comparison or investigating online reviews before buying a product – in store or online

 (April 11, 2011) Logging on to compare prices, product and service features and costs has become the de facto standard for consumers according the latest research. In a recent online study, only 13% of respondents said they had not done online pre-purchase research, price comparison or investigating online reviews before buying a product – whether on the street or online. 75% use a price comparison site, the most popular online activity.

Whilst these results were taken from an online panel, with so much of the population online, it shows the importance to brands and retailers of accurate, up-to-date information and positive reviews.

Respondents research everything imaginable, from expensive products such as cars, personal technology and white goods, to cheaper items like books, films, clothes and games. It’s the same story for services. Insurance is the top researched service at 68%, followed by holidays, utilities, mobile phone companies and banks/financial services.

Almost half (49%) of respondents said they had written a review and posted it online. 88% of those who had written a review had written a positive one. However, with so many people reading online reviews, it is no surprise that negative reviews carry weight. A quarter (24%) said they change their minds about buying a product or service after reading two bad reviews, and a further 39% said reading three negative reviews would persuade them against buying a particular product or service. And the older generation is even more cautious: one third (33%) of 55 to 64 year olds say they would change their mind after only two negative reviews, compared to 10% of 18 to 24 year-olds.

At 64% almost two thirds of respondents said they trusted the opinions and experience of other consumers, followed by Which? at 60% and professional reviewers at 58%. And although people turn to company websites as part of their research, they aren’t necessarily swayed by the reviews from other consumers they read there – only 17% think reviews on a company website are trustworthy.

Despite their popularity, only 17% said it was important social network friends gave products they were interested in a good review. Word of mouth is acknowledged to be highly effective, but social networks don’t seem to be the place where it works so well. Online communities are about friendship and conversations: product and service reviews don’t fit into the discourse.

Brands need to be aware of the influence that online reviews have, both positive and negative. There is a real danger that companies will focus on social media because it is so popular and in doing so miss out on the opinions that consumers actually value – those of other consumers and professional reviewers.

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