Monday, 3 March 2008

In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream

I worked with Reevoo recently, the business that publishes genuine customer reviews on retailers’ websites, on a study that looked at the influence of opinion on buying behaviour online. The results surprised me. I knew that medium like the web was likely to elevate the importance of the opinions of others in the choices that we make, but what I didn’t expect was the massive impact that opinion has versus advertising. Opinions have five times the impact.

The YouGov study for Reevoo found that six out of ten people (60%) said online opinions written by consumers who have already bought a product would affect their choice of what to buy. In contrast, just 12% said they would be swayed by online advertising.

The study also found that shoppers are beginning to wake up to the possibility of fake reviews and won’t believe everything they read online. While eight out of ten (79%) are influenced by impartial ratings from shoppers who have definitely bought a product, only 14% would trust review programmes that are directly managed by retailers. More than a third (36%) of consumers are worried about the authenticity of retailer-managed customer review programmes.

This is, of course, an invaluable insight for all online retailers, but there are lessons in this for everyone in the communications trade, especially in the context of online communications. Informed, interested views matter much more than blatant plugs. Sure, banner ads, search engine optimisation, price comparison and all the other tools play their part, but when you strip at all away, it is views and opinions that are more likely to sway sentiment in favour of a business, its products and services.

You’ll find more on Reevoo here and you’ll find their logo and customer reviews peppered throughout the UK’s virtual high street. If the Consumers’ Association was to start all over, I suspect it would look a bit like Reevoo does today.

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