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People strongly prefer to do their own research online instead of speaking to a sales associate at a store, according to the 2010 Social Shopping Study from the e-tailing group and PowerReviews. Study respondents said they liked online research better for three reasons: its ability to save time (79 percent report saving somewhat to much more time performing their own online research), boost confidence (83 percent are somewhat to much more confident about making a purchase decision when doing their own research) and provide credible information (82 percent are somewhat or very satisfied with product information available online).
The research additionally found that online research remains key to consumer shopping behavior, with 50 percent of respondents saying they conduct research online for at least half of their purchases, vs. 54 percent in the 2007 Social Shopping Study. Research styles differ, however: 29 percent conduct just a few hours of research before deciding to buy an item, while 60 percent conduct research for a week or more. Only 11 percent consumers take the middle course of conducting research for a day.
When asked where they’re doing their online research, the majority (57 percent) of respondents said they begin with a search engine. The top three places consumers go to when researching product information online were retailer sites (65 percent), brand sites (58 percent) and Amazon.com (33 percent). Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter attracted just 6 percent of shoppers engaged in online product research.
“Whereas once online product research was left to the technology savvy looking to make a major purchase, it is now part of the mainstream shopping experience for all product categories as consumers have taken control powering their own product research,” noted Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group in Chicago. “These heightened consumer demands must be met with comprehensive product and category content to ensure elevated conversion rates and return visits.”
In response to questioning about the resources they preferred for online research, respondents ranked customer reviews as the top social media tool having a significant impact on buying behavior. User-generated reviews rated as the most important capability for retailers to have on their Web sites, trouncing customer service information and buying guides/expert opinions.
Sixty-four percent of shoppers consistently read reviews always or most of the time before deciding to purchase an item, a number the same as the 65 percent answering the same way in 2007. Although usage remains steady, the study did uncover some changes in the ways consumers use and react to reviews. For instance, consumers now spend more time reading reviews before making purchasing decisions, with 64 percent taking 10 minutes or more, vs. 50 percent in 2007, and 33 percent taking a half-hour or more, compared with 18 percent in 2007.
Shoppers also read more customer reviews to be confident in judging a product: 39 percent read eight or more reviews, vs. 22 percent in 2007, and 12 percent read 16 or more reviews, as opposed to 5 percent in 2007.
The top factors that degrade trust in product reviews were not enough reviews (cited by 50 percent of respondents), doubt that the reviews are written by real customers (39 percent) and no or limited availability of negative reviews (38 percent). After poor product content (72 percent), lack of customer reviews (49 percent) was given as the No. 1 reason a consumer would leave a site when conducting product research.
“The findings of the 2010 Social Shopping Survey validate what we are hearing from retailers and brands — that customer reviews have become a critical piece of the marketing puzzle, based not only on consumer demand but also on the sales they deliver,” said Pehr Luedtke, CEO of San Francisco-based PowerReviews. “The next step for retailers is to now find new ways to maximize the impact and reach of these reviews-such as optimizing them for search engines.”
The 2010 Social Shopping Study surveyed over 1,000 consumers who shop at least four times per year and spend $250 or more annually shopping online, to assess their motivations and preferences regarding online product research and customer reviews.