The way we make consumer decisions has drastically changed. Think back to the last time you purchased something over $100 – for example, a TV. Before the Internet Age, you would go to the store and ask the customer service representative what they thought was the best buy. You might ask your friends what TV they bought and how was it performing for them. If were a real consumer research expert, you would head down to your local public library and dig through the stacks to consult Consumer Reports. But all in all, you were limited in the research you could access.
Fast forward to today. For my most recent TV purchase, I went to the Internet and researched the specs, editorial and user reviews on the television options that were in my price range. I looked at my favorite sites, including Amazon and New Egg pouring over the reviews. I even asked my Facebook friends their opinion. Plasma or LED? 720 or 1080? Audio quality? Was it a good value? How long did it last? Would they purchase it again? I also looked to see if it was cheaper online than at a retail store (remembering to account for shipping). None of this was possible pre-World Wide Web.
We now use multiple sources before making a consumer decision. In fact, the average shopper used 10.4 online sources to make a decision in 2011, up from 5.3 sources in 2010.
This new research-reviews-before-purchase approach is applying more and more to small items. 3M, makers of products like Scotch Tape, opened up reviews on their website, not knowing what to expect. They received over 3,000 reviews.
Why has this all changed?
One word, availability. The time and effort required to acquire a product or service review is now drastically reduced. Finding what others think is the best tape is as easy as doing a quick search in Google or Amazon. This is a far cry from attempting to track down a past issue of Consumer Reports that had our particular item we were researching (no longer necessary as CR is now online).
What should I do as a company selling a product or service?
Be your own reviewer. Provide your customers specific information and specs on your services and products offered. See what features reviewers like and emphasize those features on your site, in advertising and through Social Media.
Have a third-party research your product (this can be a formal research company or simply a friend). What do they want to know that is difficult to find? What did they not know that they are glad they now do? How would they summarize your product to a friend?
Consider allowing product and service reviews on your site. While many companies are hesitant to put reviews about their product online, 80 percent of online reviews are positive and most consumers expect to see a few negative reviews or their suspicion actually rises.
Monitor your off-site reviews. Even if you don’t have reviews on your own website, there are tons of other sites like Yelp, that allow others to express their opinions. Make sure you are monitoring these reviews and interacting when appropriate.
Today, it’s even more important than ever to influence consumers’ decisions as they do their own research on your service or product online. Don’t fight the research-reviews-before-purchase approach, join it.