Many consumers find ratings and reviews helpful when doing product research online. Our Technographics survey shows that about half of US online men and 42% of female Internet users are using ratings and reviews at least monthly. Less than half of them are posting ratings and reviews regularly.
But how do consumers value these ratings and reviews, and what do they do about not knowing who's behind the ratings? To get a better understanding of this, we recently asked the community members in Forrester’s Digital Consumers Community the following question:
'Do you read customer reviews before you buy a product? If so, how important are others’ reviews when making your decision to buy a product? Does your reliance on customer reviews vary for different products?'
While most are checking consumer reviews, the comments reveal that they are not heavily influenced by peer reviews. People tend to seek out reviews when they are about to purchase a big ticket item and they are reading the reviews to make themselves feel more comfortable with spending that money – like they have done their homework – but in the end, it’s their own judgment they rely on.
Some key quotes:
“I always see what others have to say regarding the products, some are helpful and some are not”
On two occasions in the past few months, I’ve given a speech to members of Forrester’s Market Research Forrester Leadership Board about vendor management best practices, a topic I’m writing a report on.[i] With market research budgets increasingly shrinking and research expectations growing, we see that market researchers need to select, manage, and measure their vendors more efficiently.
The key to success here is to develop partnerships with your key vendors. Why? Because conversations with Market Research professionals at a variety of organizations show that partnering with research vendors leads to better projects, deeper insights, and lower costs. As one of my interviewees said: “It’s about intellectual ROI: You need to invest less time for each project. You build a lot of equity. You also get more of a team thing going — to me, this is very important. You work with these people on a daily basis, so finding the right vendor and contact is critical, as we see them as colleagues.”
To understand how Market Research professionals currently collaborate with their research vendors, we surveyed our Market Research Panel earlier this year. The majority of our panelists feel that they already have established partnerships with most vendors, and two-thirds state that price is less important than quality.
Smartphones have changed consumer' shopping behavior significantly. Our Technographics data shows that almost one-third of consumers are using their phones to locate a store nearby to find a specific product, and once they’re in the store, they’re using their phones to look up product information (21%) and to compare prices (14%). The retail industry should cater to this need and develop a mobile presence that guides consumers in their decision-making process and makes the information consumers seek easily accessible to seamlessly move them to the cashier.
Retailers can only benefit at this point because the “hard” part is already done: The consumer already wants the product. But without delivering on this last step toward the purchase decision, retailers aren't capitalizing on their previous marketing efforts that got the consumer interested in their product or their store in the first place-- it’s like running a race and stopping 5 feet before the finish line.
Rather than relying on a third-party app that could easily get the consumer walking next door for the lower price he just found, retailers should develop a mobile Website (and if relevant for their target audience, a mobile app) that will support and enhance consumers’ in-store experience when they’re looking up information and also build up loyalty and improve the cross-channel shopping experience.
Americans of all ages — not just the young — spend a lot of time playing games. Our Technographics data shows that all generations spend about 7 hours a week playing PC games, but younger consumers also play games on consoles, handhelds, and mobile phones. Generation Y spends close to 20 hours a week playing games!
The reason why console gamers play on game consoles is that they can play against others (49%), while computer gamers choose their platform because it's convenient (55%). Forrester wrote a report about the role of PCs and portable devices in gaming called “The Re-Emergence Of The PC As A Proper Gaming Platform.” The accessibility of gaming today is one important reason that video gaming is very popular. Mobile devices, like the iPad, give consumers the ability to play games nearly anywhere at any time, and, in many cases, they can play for free.
Forrester's Social Technographics® looks at how consumers approach social technologies — not just the adoption of individual technologies. We group consumers into seven different categories of participation — and participation at one level may or may not overlap with participation at other levels. We use the metaphor of a ladder to show this, with the rungs at the higher end of the ladder indicating a higher level of participation. You can find more background on Social Technographics and the concept behind it at our Groundswell blog.
Overall, engagement with social activities has increased significantly in the past few years. By the end of 2009, almost three-quarters of US online adults were participating in one way or another with social media. But how do users of Facebook and MySpace compare to each other when looking at how active they are? The following graphic shows that MySpace users are far more likely to be “Creators” — the group that actually creates its own fresh content.
We've also asked consumers in which categories they like to express themselves online. The behaviors of Facebook and MySpace consumers are quite comparable for most categories, but MySpace users score much higher on expressing themselves on music, video, or gaming online - true to their 'Creator' profile.
The recent recession has changed consumers' mindsets. They are more careful and prudent about how they spend their money on everything, including travel. But can price drive loyalty? What makes consumers feel valued? Forrester's Technographics® research shows that price and transparency of costs are indeed very important elements for travel companies to make their clients feel special, but these are followed by support statements like “Make me confident that any arising issues will be fixed.”
To increase loyalty and make consumers feel valued, travel companies should see beyond deals and extend their focus to include support. In a recent report on this topic 'Why Travel eBusiness Misses The Mark By Only Emphasizing Price' my colleague Henry Harteveldt gives an example of how a travel seller can use the recent Icelandic volcanic eruption to show affected customers they care, by offering them a special deal when they log into their account.
As Henry says, travel sellers must remember that they don't own the traveler; they earn the opportunity to serve the traveler from one purchase to the next. Fail and the traveler will consider your competitor — and price will likely provide the motivation to switch.
Consumers in Asia Pacific are the most active mobile phone users globally, but does this usage translate into spending money on mobile services? Our Technographics® data shows that South Korean mobile phone owners lead in buying content or services for mobile phones. Each country in the Asia Pacific region has its specific mobile content preferences. Ring tones and ringback tones are the most popular service, followed by games and music.
Mobile content buyers are mostly young technology optimists with higher incomes. There are, however, a few interesting exceptions in different countries. One-third of South Korean buyers fall into the 30-to-39 age bracket; more than half of Indian mobile consumers are highly entertainment-oriented; and about 40% of Chinese spenders are highly career-driven.
What matters to financial buyers depends on who they are and what they are buying. Our Technographics data shows that European customers with different profiles — for example, different sociodemographic or attitudinal profiles — care about different things when selecting financial services firms.
The report 'Why Europeans Choose Financial Firms' also shows that the influence of word of mouth on a customer's decision to select a financial services firm declines sharply with age. A striking 37% of customers ages 16 to 24 and 18% of customers ages 25 to 34 were influenced by their friends' or family's recommendations. On the other hand, nearly half of European financial buyers ages 65 or older chose a company for their most recent financial purchase partly because they already had a product or account there.
In the past few months, I've regularly posted Data Digests on people's online shopping behavior. However, not every Internet user actually buys products online. Our Technographics® data shows that about 57% of European Internet users and about two-thirds of US online adults have purchased something online in the past three months. Concerns about privacy, delivery, and returns keep the others from making a purchase; women feel more strongly about delivery costs and the need to see (and feel) the product before they buy than men do.
When asked what would motivate them to start purchasing products or services online, lower shipping costs (43%), lower online prices (42%), and the ability to return products easily (27%) top the list. Retailers have to make the cross-channel shopping experience as easy as possible to cater to the needs of those online consumers who do research products but don't purchase them online — yet.
When I came back from holiday last week and looked at my mail, I was delighted to see that the most recent issue of Research World (the ESOMAR magazine) had a number of articles on mobile research. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, mobile research has really won me over (see also my report, The Challenges And Opportunities Of Mobile Research for full details). The “anytime, anywhere” aspect of the mobile phone, combined with people's emotional attachment to it, makes it an ideal device for people to share their thoughts and opinions in a research context.
When reading the articles in Research World, however, I feel that the industry is missing out on a great opportunity. The emphasis of the conversation here is on mobile research's methodological challenges, such as sampling, guidelines, and research bias. I agree that there are still some hurdles to overcome with regards to representation, costs, technology, and privacy, but I believe market researchers shouldn't get too caught up in these but should instead embrace mobile phones as a new research channel and look for innovative research approaches.