As a Shopping Tool, Consumers Rate Online Review Sites Highly

TripAdvisor, Yelp, consumer associations, and company websites all offer product and services reviews, although a third of Americans say search engines are their starting point for finding recommendations, according to a new survey by ReportLinker.

Where can you get the best pizza in New York? Consider this five-star review: “This place is the best thing that has ever happened to NYC. 1. the pizzas are amazing, super fresh ingredients. The down side is that they do not take reservation only walk in and yo {sic} can wait about an hour for food. You can always just order to pick up and walk over to the Brooklyn bridge pier and have a picnic with a good pizza :).”

This isn’t a personal recommendation from your closest friend, the one who always seems to have the inside scoop about the best new restaurant in town. It was posted by Sophia H. to TripAdvisor, the granddaddy of the online reviews, a growing trend that has slowly – but effectively – reshaped the way consumers make purchase decisions.

Marketing professionals often fear online reviews because a negative one can potentially harm their brand. Yet, the benefits could be greater than the risks. Online reviews can help brands sell more. That’s because reviews help consumers evaluate their choices and increase their confidence in their decision. Thus, businesses that embrace online reviews are likely to see sales rise, while those who ignore them may miss out on a significant number of potential customers.

TripAdvisor may have been one of the earliest to offer a platform for online reviews, but it’s no longer the only option for consumers. Yelp, consumer associations, and company websites all offer product and services reviews, although a third of Americans say search engines are their starting point for finding recommendations, according to a new survey by ReportLinker. A quarter of consumers say they first search online review websites, such as TripAdvisor, and 22% seek recommendations at company websites.

Where do Americans first search for online reviews.

The first step in developing a marketing plan for online reviews steps is to gain a firm understanding of how and where consumers seek information. ReportLinker found that consumers choose different online review sites depending on the product or service being researched. For example, when finding a good restaurant is the goal, consumers mention Yelp 53% of the time while TripAdvisor is mentioned 51% of the time.

Which main website do Americans consult to get online business reviews.

But for those looking for product reviews, Amazon and eBay top the list, with each mentioned 57% of the time. These sites offer the convenience of both research and buying, which makes them more popular than consumer associations such as Consumer Reports, mentioned just 27% of the time.

By far the most popular category of online reviews is electronics, with 71% of mentions, and men are far more likely to research this topic than women, ReportLinker found. Hotel and restaurant reviews are the next most-popular searches, with 53% and 52% of mentions, followed by automobiles (47% of mentions), entertainment and clothing (39% of mentions), and beauty and personal care product reviews (35% of mentions).

Because we’re constantly on the go and always have our smartphones with us, it comes as no surprise that this is the main device we use to search for or write reviews about products (35%), according to ReportLinker. This is especially true for Millennials (56%) and Facebook users (49%).

Which main device do Americans usually use to consult and/or write reviews.

ReportLinker also found that men and women search markedly different categories. While men enjoy reading online reviews of electronics (73% of mentions) and tools (39% of mentions), women are more likely to seek recommendations about clothing (56% of mentions), beauty and health care products (60% of mentions), and handbags and accessories (33% of mentions).

Electronics is the main category for which Americans consult review websites.

Likewise, there are differences between age groups. More than a third of young women check Facebook before they buy an article of clothing. In fact, 55% of Millennials – and 65% of young Millennials (18-24 years old) – will read reviews before buying apparel. This generation is also more likely to read reviews of beauty and personal care products, and handbags and accessories, according to ReportLinker.

At first glance, it’s easy to conclude that in the retail industry, online reviews are increasingly more important than personal recommendations, which is counterintuitive. Why trust a stranger more than a friend? However, though 59% of shoppers believe online reviews are equally as trustworthy as a review provided by a friend, a third of respondents say they’re more suspicious of online reviews, according to ReportLinker. What’s more, while 78% of US respondents believe online reviews are somewhat reliable, a whopping 89% of these same respondents say they believe the reviews are less trustworthy than the opinions of their friends.

According to 59% of Americans, online recommendations are as much trustful as personal recommendations.

But how exactly do consumers judge reviews to determine if the business is trustworthy? ReportLinker found that shoppers first evaluate the content (62% of mentions), then look at the number of reviews (58% of mentions). But respondents are evenly split on how many reviews they need to see in order to consider the reviews reliable. One-third of respondents say a business needs to have a minimum of 30 reviews, while one-third prefers 11-30 reviews and another third is comfortable with less than 10. Another indicator of reliability is seeing a mix of good and bad reviews, ReportLinker says.

For 62% of Americans, the content of review website is the main criteria to support their reliability.

Surprisingly, one criteria not emphasized is the credibility of review authors, which is mentioned just 26% of the time. However, author credibility is more important to shoppers who turn to blogs to advise them on products, and they mention it 42% of the time.

Despite their extensive reliance on reviews, only half of online shoppers say they write reviews, and they’re more likely to do so if they often consult reviews before buying, with 72% saying they both consult and write reviews.

51% of Americans wrote a review about a product or service bought in the last 12 months.

Yet, if they do contribute reviews, consumers are far less prolific than you might expect. Sixty-one percent say they write less than five reviews a year, and less than 30% say they write five to 10 reviews annually.

And it turns out that a negative experience drives far fewer people to write a review than conventional wisdom seems to imply. Almost half of respondents say a very satisfying experience will inspire them to contribute a recommendation, while just 34% say a very dissatisfying experience sparks the need to review the product or service, ReportLinker says.

For marketing professionals and brands, this should be reassuring. With more consumers incorporating online reviews into their buying decisions and more shoppers showing an inclination to write good reviews, the benefits do seem to outweigh the risks.