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Peer Pressure in Online Shopping

Kim Hart

I was browsing through book titles on last weekend and realized how much weight I was giving to the reader reviews listed for each book. If one reader gave a book high marks, I was skeptical. Maybe it is a friend of the author giving it a rave review? And does that mean very few people have taken the time to read the book?

If there were over a dozen or more reviews, however, I realized that I was more inclined to read them closely, compare the the negative reviews with the positive ones, and was more inclined to add the book to my wish list.

So when I saw this report about how online reviews sway shoppers from e-Marketer hit my inbox today, I was immediately interested in its findings.

A survey by Opinion Research Corporation showed that 61 percent of respondents said they had checked online reviews, blogs and other online customer feedback before buying a new product or service. Most respondents did this research with search engines. Of those who looked for reviews and other feedback, more than eight out of 10 said such evaluations had at least some influence on their purchases.

And according to a February 2008 study commissioned by PowerReviews, nearly half of U.S. consumers who shopped online four or more times per year and spent at least $500 said they needed four to seven customer reviews before making a purchase decision.

What does this mean for new products or services? Are consumers less willing to take a chance to purchase a relatively un-reviewed item?

Even well-known and trusted brands are subject to reviews that can have a big impact on their business. When I was searching for hotels in Seattle last month, I read the reviews for Holiday Inn, Best Western and Sheraton, even though I largely knew what to expect by these chains. Ultimately, my decision was made by price. But I'd pay an extra $20 dollars if it meant the difference between a roach-infested, noisy room and a good night's sleep.

Now that some retailers are letting social networking users link their personal profiles to their sites, I expect friend recommendations to play a much larger role in our shopping choices. If the opinions of strangers are so powerful, just think about the impact the opinions of our friends will have.

By Kim Hart  |  July 9, 2008; 3:43 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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In addition to leaving reviews on products or services, it will be interesting to see whether consumers begin to share tips or finds with their friends while shopping online. Just as online shopping has evolved from a purely individualistic activity to one influenced by reviews and comments, will it further develop into a more social experience where friends shop together and share items or looks when deciding what to buy.

Posted by: | July 10, 2008 2:54 PM

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