Survey results published in the US last month cement the absolute dominance of online reviews and star ratings driving consumer behaviour. 6500 consumers were surveyed by PowerReviews and for the first time the findings indicated a substantial shift in the values consumers look for when making purchasing decisions.

“When asked which factors impact online purchase decisions, 94% of consumers now say customer ratings and reviews top the list of considerations, followed by price of product (91%), free shipping (78%), brand preference (65%) and friend/family recommendations (60%).” (Source: “New Consumer Survey of More than 6,500 Consumers Reveals Increasing Importance of Product Reviews to Establish Trust and Drive Purchase Behavior [sic]”, May 20. 2021, GlobalNewswire).

To those in online marketing this is no surprise, as all substantial surveys in the past ten years have affirmed the growing value of reviews and the faith consumers put in them. I would fully imagine that price is a value that will fall further as consumers look for markers of trust and dependability and will happily pay more if they are given peace-of-mind the products they buy or the services they commission meet or exceed their expectations.

Brand preference has been steadily declining too, as the concept and reality of brand and branding are far more fluid now and consumers do not hold the same attachments to brands as they have in previous decades. Furthermore, branding is only successful if it has social proof and visible and authentic reviews and ratings to support it.

The specific findings of the survey related to consumer dependency on reviews and ratings support the upward trajectory of their importance.

“Reviews are now a quintessential element to drive purchases.

  • Today, more than 99.9% of consumers say they read reviews when shopping online at least sometimes. In 2018, this number was 97%.
  • 98% of consumers feel that reviews are an essential resource when making purchase decisions, up from 89% in 2018.
  • 79% of consumers specifically seek out websites with product reviews, up from 63% in 2018. Millennials are the generation most likely to seek out websites with product reviews — 85% say this is a must.

“Review quality, quantity, and recency all matter to shoppers.

Although I am an online marketing professional, I am also a consumer and research such as this affirms what I look for online and what I do before I purchase or hire. Everything I do online is governed by reviews. If I find none for a business, I move on to the next. If I think that a product meets my needs, it will be reviews that will dictate my next steps. I have been saved from disastrous potential purchases by reviews and I have been delighted by items I have bought on the back of reviews. I am not alone – the overwhelming majority of consumers do exactly the same thing.