If you are like me and nearly 70 percent of consumers, according to a recent report from global market intelligence firm Mintel, you read online reviews or seek out opinions from other consumers online before making many of your purchase decisions.

I find myself doing this with consistency, even when making the most innocuous choices. Most recently I was on the hunt for a gluten free, vegan probiotic (I know. I am so annoying). Since my needs are somewhat specific, I first post about it on Facebook, to my personal community of like-minded friends…….“hey you guys, looking for a gluten free, vegan probiotic. anyone i know use one they like?” (I rarely use caps on social media, I like to consider it a stylistic choice). I refer to this practice as “life crowdsourcing” and I do it ALL THE TIME, for just about everything, not only minor and major purchases. I don’t always get answers, but when I do, nothing beats a real endorsement from someone I know.

Simultaneously, especially if my social “crew” is lagging on a particular day, I will perform a quick search to see which manufacturers produce a probiotic that will meet my specifications. At this point, and typically most of the time, I scroll directly to the reviews (either via the search engine or on a specific retailer site), to see what other consumers say about the brands/products that met my search or those that were recommended by someone in my inner circle.

After taking into consideration the experience of other consumers, I might do a little comparison shopping on price. In reality, I don’t typically shop too hard on price when I am not making a major purchase because I am willing to pay a few dollars more for a product I perceive as more valuable to me. I am not alone here: Mintel observes that opinion seeking is correlated with a higher household income and these consumers are therefore able to consider other factors beyond price in their purchase decision. At this point, my now informed choice has been made and I usually feel extremely confident in my purchase no matter the price, typically leading to a great experience with the product (that’s the goal right?).

The Mintel study found that of those who seek out advice, shoppers are equally likely to visit user review sites or independent review sites before making a purchase (70 percent), while 57 percent use social media networks for recommendations. When we look closer at the millennial market, 72% of opinion-seekers age 25-34 look to social media contacts for recommendations when purchasing goods and services. As the millennial population matures and new generations of consumers come into the fold, it’s safe to say the idea of “life crowdsourcing” purchases using online reviews and social media is not going anywhere any time soon.

Your customers are not waiting to get to checkout or even on site to decide what products and brands they purchase anymore. (I immediately think of how often I use Instagram to look at menu items at restaurants before I leave the house). People are more connected to each other than ever before. With the proliferation of digital media and the rise of online reviews (which are by nature, true social media), there is a wealth of consumer to consumer information and insights available at the click of a button to guide the right product or service to an informed consumer. Whether it’s probiotics, where to take yoga, a major appliance purchase or parts for my bike, consumers just like me are habitually using collective intelligence to help inform purchase decisions.

This is not to say that consumers are not using critical judgment when it comes to online reviews, with more than half saying they don’t trust products with only positive reviews. However, over half of respondents (54 percent) agree that they would try a product with negative online reviews, if recommended by someone they know. Online reviews are here to stay and they are being used daily by your customers. With that said, there is a real and urgent need for marketers to develop a strong strategy to identify, and arm loyal advocates and satisfied customers with the tools they need to essentially be “effective sellers” across digital and social channels.

By nature, consumers are more likely to post a review after having a negative experience (I am guilty of this myself). Some companies actually faint (well not actually) at the thought of online reviews floating in cyber-space without brand control. Rather than focus on the negative, brands might consider putting real resources behind setting a clear strategy to mobilize SATISFIED (and maybe even ecstatic) customers. In doing so, setting up a dynamic that creates a fellowship of happy, confident advocates, who see real value in your product or service. In no time, those negative reviews should get buried and ultimately will only exist to lend to validation of authenticity.

Interested in more?

Check out our Brand Love guide to discover how to nurture your biggest supporters to inspire advocacy, spark UGC, and generate authentic, high-quality reviews

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