Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How Independent Product Reviews Influence Buyers


According to a recent eMarketer report, a study of the typical online buying process has uncovered the journey for most people, and the growing number of resources that buyers rely on -- as they make their informed purchase decisions.

Research from GroupM Search and comScore highlights the increased use of another resource consumers are turning to in combination with their proven search engine usage -- that being, a variety social media content.

Skeptical marketers that question the influence of independent product reviews on purchasing habits now have reason to rethink that skepticism. eMarketer says that buyers who will purchase are almost as likely to use a combination of search and social resources (48 percent) as they are to just use search alone (51 percent).

Furthermore, when people were exposed to both brand-specific search results and social media, search click-through rates increased by 94 percent -- indicating how substantive product review content can help marketers to better influence their target consumers.

However, marketers wanting to capitalize on social media's role in vetting shortlists and identifying new brands must look beyond the standard social media channels -- such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Value of Detailed Product Application Reviews

Buyers researching brands on their product shortlist depend largely on their peer's opinions -- 30 percent of people surveyed rely on knowledgeable user reviews to aid in their purchase decision -- whereas only 17 percent and 9 percent turn to Facebook or Twitter, respectively.

In the 90 days leading up to purchase, less than 1 percent of all online purchasers engaged with brand-controlled social media from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- or ads and paid media on other high-traffic social sites.

In contrast, 16 percent of consumers engaged with industry-specific blogs offering expert opinions and product or service reviews. eMarketer believes that reliance on review-focused content makes it difficult for marketers to control consumer exposure to unapproved brand messages and interactions as consumers vet each brand on their shortlist.

That said, I know how reviews from credible independent sources (reviews not published on the retailer or vendor website) influence my own buying behavior. In fact, that was the catalyst for creating the Reviews section on Digital Lifescapes. I wanted to describe my own application scenarios for products or services that I would gladly recommend -- based upon my own everyday usage experience.

Why More Market Studies and Analysis are Needed

Additional findings from a ForeSee Results market study further emphasize the role of product review websites as an important influence on buyers visiting retail websites.

Compared to other influences, independent product reviews were most likely to affect the likelihood of a purchase, sharing this distinction with another highly influential factor -- personal word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family.

Somewhat contradictory to the GroupM and comScore findings is the reported level of consumer satisfaction of interaction with branded messages and advertising on social networks -- indicating an area ripe for further investigation to better understand the true influence of brand-created messaging on social networks.

The data further illustrates the complexity of the online path to purchase and further justifies the need for marketers to track their individual marketing programs.

Specifically, benchmarking their search marketing and social media efforts, to uncover the channels and resources that are proven to best optimize the customer buying experience -- regardless of the relative visitor traffic to those sites.