New Research Says We’re Reading Before Buying

All of a Sudden, We’re Offering – and Taking – Advice

How many of you out there have posted comments or reviews about products you’ve bought, trips you’ve taken or publications you’ve read? With this audience comprised primarily of college graduates, can you believe that figure is close to 40 percent?

In new research just released by Pew Internet, one-fourth of American adults—regardless of education—say they have posted comments or reviews online about the products or services they buy, indicating a willingness to share their opinions about products and the buying experience with others.

“Many Americans begin their purchasing experience by doing online research to compare prices, quality and the reviews of other shoppers,” said Jim Jansen, Senior Fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and author of a new report about online product research. “Even if they end up making their purchase in a store, they start their fact-finding and decision-making on the internet.”

It’s true. We are in the habit now of checking what other people think about something, even though we know nothing about them. My friend Peter, who probably sleeps with his camera under his pillow, just bought a new one that way. “Even if someone didn’t like a certain brand,” he says, “it is interesting to read why, what goes wrong and what their needs are.” I do that with movies on IMDB. Because George Huang from Taiwan liked a new foreign film called “Kick Off,” I bought a ticket yesterday. He sounds knowledgeable. My friends do the same thing on Rotten Tomatoes.

Overall, according to Pew, 58 percent of Americans report that they perform online research concerning the products and services that they are considering purchasing. On a daily basis, the number of those who do research about products has jumped from 15 percent of adults in September 2007 to 21 percent in September 2010. (Of course, they are doing this after they finish their regular work.) In 2004, it was just 9 percent.

Other interesting findings:
– Almost half of Americans report that they use internet sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
– There is no significant difference in online product researching among rural, suburban, and urban internet?using adults, although rural users are less likely to post reviews.
– The proportion of the general population that has bought products such as books, music, toys or clothing online has risen to 52 percent.
– The proportion of the general population that has made travel reservations or bought travel services such airline tickets, hotel rooms or rental cars rose from 22 percent in May 2000 to 52 percent in the Project’s May 2010 survey.
– Among just internet users, 78 percent say that they at least occasionally conduct product research and 32 percent report that they have posted online product comments.

Okay, so what does this mean for SIPA members? At the least, encourage your happy customers to share their sentiments—both on your site and on other popular ones in the industry (like IMDB is for films and TripAdvisor for travel). I don’t know if there is a way to provide incentive for this. (If you know of something, please let me know.) But it appears from the Pew numbers that people like telling the world what they have done—hello Facebook—so providing subscribers with the places where they can do this seems logical.

Try to add comments of your own to other related sites and postings—not necessarily “buy my product” but well thought-out responses to issues they’re discussing. We know that people who buy are on these sites looking for information. Give them snippets and maybe they’ll come looking for more. Devote real time to this or it will never happen.

Meanwhile, I need to go now and post comments about that hotel I stayed at Saturday night (awesome shower) , the restaurant I ate at Sunday (loved the chowder) and my new cell phone that came last week. (Why is there a birthday cake on my screen?)

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