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A response to the recent eMarketer study – “The Role of Customer Product Reviews”

Yesterday eMarketer wrote posted an article called The Role of Customer Product Reviews and released a study called Customer Product Reviews: The Next Generation about the influence of customer product reviews.  The study is interesting and a worthwhile read and I found several statements that made me lean forward and pay closer attention.  I don't agree with everything but the study did what it should do which is provoke thought and raise more questions.  Keep in mind that eMarketer does not conduct their own research.  They aggregate and analyze others research.  So I guess that means I am providing a meta analysis of their meta analysis.

eMarketer Assertion #1Peers are an invaluable source of product advice. For many purchases, shoppers find the best advice comes not from family and close friends but from strangers who have similar interests or who embody a lifestyle the shopper aspires to achieve.

I happen to agree with this assertion, it is one of the core assumptions behind the value of user reviews, but would like to see supporting data to back up this claim. it makes intuitive sense that a shopper will trust the opinions of a consumer who has had direct experience with the product they are purchasing, but I don't see any evidence from eMarketer to back up this claim. We know conclusively that consumers value reviews, but do they value them more than advice from their friends?  In what situations and in what categories?

eMarketer Assertion #2: Consumers rarely depend solely on customer reviews to make a purchase decision. Instead they use them to corroborate information obtained from other sources such as expert opinions, video demonstrations, coupon sites and comparison-shopping engines. Many shoppers also consult product  reviews before visiting a store to inspect an item in person.

This is very interesting.  I don't think enough research has been done around the process that consumers go through to make a purchase decision.  What is the duration of their decision making process and what type of information influences the final outcome? In what order do they do their research?  Reviews first, price comparison second and coupons third? 

This chart from the Edelman Trust Barometer study helps to explain why consumers needs multiple sources of information to make a decision.

Edelman Study

When you read the Social Shopping study, you find additional information helps to reinforce the importance of user reviews. 63% of shoppers consistently read reviews prior to making a purchase decision and 72% of consumers indicate that ratings and reviews on retail sites are very/extremely important when it comes to selecting a product.

Assertion #3In a surprising finding from the “2010 Edelman Trust Barometer,” the number of people who view their friends and peers as either extremely or very credible sources of information about a company dropped from 35% in 2009 to 27% in 2010. Business magazines, analyst reports, newspaper articles and radio coverage all rank higher now as credible sources of company information.

Given the extensive demand for user reviews, this does not match with the larger trends explored in the Edelmen study.  To their credit eMarketer goes on to qualify their statement by saying, "One caveat is that the Edelman survey covers company information, a much broader sphere than just products, so respondents could be thinking about the business’ executives, financial statements, lawsuits or other matters."