Sixty percent of shoppers are influenced by online reviews

Scouring the internet for online reviews before buying a product or service has become a habit with a majority of Americans trusting them as much as personal recommendations, a new survey by ReportLinker has found.

Understanding if a shirt will run colour or if a cream will give you a rash, are the kind of insights that remain impossible to gauge online. But people who have tried the products can give a potential shopper such helpful pointers.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that such reviews are shaping consumer behaviour, with 60% of respondents admitting they influence their purchase decisions, the report added.

Reviews are however, not always positive. This means they can become a cause for concern for small business owners, worried about sales figures and brand images. But negative reviews can be worked to an advantage with the benefits outweighing the risks.

“They can illuminate where you’re doing well, where you can improve, and what needs your attention right away. It’s a good idea to engage with your customers so you can hopefully resolve issues in a way that satisfies everyone. Win-win,” a Business Insider report said.

Alternatively, business owners can flag inappropriate, false, or spammy reviews for deletion, it added.

But in a maze that is the internet, where do people flock to read the reviews?

According to ReportLinker, despite Amazon’s recent popularity (22% of mentions), Google still edged it out (26% of mentions) as the go-to place for spontaneous reviews.

This, while specialised multibillion-dollar empires such as TripAdvisor and Yelp slipped in popularity, which they was once used to. Both sites were mentioned by less than a third of respondents, even after their names were suggested to them.

One reason could be due to a shift in consumer behaviour — statistics show customers are now relying more on a company’s website for information than other sites. It was the first search option for 66% of respondents, which was up by nine points since 2017.

Though it may be easy to conclude that online reviews are gaining in popularity at first glance, there Is a fair amount of scepticism still present.

While a majority of respondents (82%) kept an open mind and judged reviews as somewhat reliable, not everyone took them for granted, ReportLinker found.

The uncertainty was mostly centred around their reliability — shoppers first evaluated the content (65% of mentions) and then looked for a fair blend of good and bad reviews (55% of mentions).

Respondents were also evenly divided over how many star ratings a business had with the number of reviews (52%), to consider them reliable. Overall, a business needed at least five reviews for people to trust the company.

In terms of search categories, most popular among respondents were restaurants (46%) and hotels (45%), followed by electronics (33%) and beauty products (32%), the report added.

Cars (36%s), travel (27%) and entertainment (28%) were quoted less often by respondents, owing to them being subjective to personal choices.

Interestingly, while shoppers valued reading reviews, a majority of respondents (83%) remained passive to writing one. Only 15% of buyers said they wrote a review as often as they consulted one.

This however, does not mean that they did not participate in writing reviews at all. Just above half of the respondents (52%) said they had written at least one review on a product or service they bought in the last year. And the reviews were usually driven by either having a very good experience or a very bad experience.

Reassuringly, almost half of the respondents (47%) said they were more willing to write when they are very satisfied with the experience than not (36%).

While there is no denying that reviews now form an important part of a consumer’s buying decision, it is somewhat encouraging to know most shoppers wrote them when they were satisfied with a product.

Which means overall, the benefits of online reviews do outweigh the risks.