"For many purchases, shoppers find the best advice comes not from family and close friends but from strangers who have similar interests or who embody a lifestyle the shopper aspires to achieve."  So says eMarketer principal analyst Jeffrey Grau in a recent article at eMarketer about some new evidence attesting to the significant impact of customer product reviews.  This is not new news, just more of it attesting to the influence of online reviews.

In this most recent study, ChannelAdvisor surveyed US Internet users this past summer and found that a staggering 92% claimed to read product reviews, of which a nearly equal percentage were either influenced to purchase (46%) or dissuaded from making a purchase (43%).  Only 3% revealed that their decisions were unaffected by online reviews.

As stated in the eMarketer article, product reviews now represent a significant part of the shopper's pre-purchase search ritual, and the tendency for consumers to search out reviews for products they are considering has continued to rise, both in terms of number of reviews they consult and the amount of time they spend perusing them.  Back in 2006, in a widely-cited academic study that appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research, authors Chevalier and Mayzlin found that consumers who consult user reviews at book-selling sites, such as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, prefer to read the actual reviews themselves to mere summary statistics, such as average number of starred ratings.  Here is a summary of some other findings from that study:

Here are some findings from a 2007 e-tailing group study (published in 2008) regarding average frequency that consumers consult online reviews prior to a purchase and the average number of reviews consulted prior to a decision:

In their just-released follow-up report, the e-tailing group, in conjunction with PowerReviews, revealed that shoppers' embrace of online customer reviews has strengthened since the 2007 analysis revealed that 64% of shoppers read reviews always or most of the time before making a purchase decision.  That percentage apparently hasn't changed, but what has is the degree of immersion in the reviews:

  • 64% of shoppers took 10 minutes or more to read reviews, vs. 50% in 2007
  • 33% took a half hour or more to read reviews, vs. 18% in 2007
  • 39% read eight or more reviews before buying, vs. 22% in 2007 
  • 12% read 16 or more reviews before buying, vs. 5% in 2007
Despite this growing immersion, the e-tailing study also revealed that consumers who consult customer reviews for assistance in making a purchase decision, are not wholly convinced about the credibility of the reviews, with 35% of the study's respondents expressing mixed feelings about the reviews' authenticity.

The authenticity issue has been an ongoing problem with the widely-popular hotel/restaurant user review site, tripadvisor.com.  Consumers often express concerns that glowing reviews are posted by proprieters themselves, a possibility tripadvisor spokespersons have acknowledged that they are very sensitive about and that they have taken steps to monitor.  Meanwhile, venue proprietors recently have attacked tripadvisor for continuing to post dated critiques that do not acknowledge more recent upgrades in service.  And yours truly is wondering why some of my Paris restaurant reviews mysteriously disappear from the site, with no explanation forthcoming from tripadvisor.  Just the other day I posted a comment about a fine little bistrot within walking distance of the Beaubourg Pompidou Center, Pramil.  At tripadvisor, Pramil is ranked as the number 6 best restaurant in Paris, out of several hundred.  I pointed out that while Pramil is a pretty good restaurant, and one that I recommended at my Paris Restaurants and Beyond blog, there are many better venues in the French capital and the number six rating makes no sense.  Perhaps it was the reference to my blog that killed the post, but within 24 hours of its appearance, it was gone.  Why?