In the not-so-distant past, consumer purchases typically hinged on enduring brand loyalty—consumers picked products off store shelves based on brands they found over the years in the family pantry. Or, they logged endless hours combing store aisles in search of the best products for their family or to tease out the strongest deal or promotion.
Yet, over the past decade as consumers embraced digital technology and social media platforms, we saw the rise of the online recommendation culture. Today, consumers increasingly turn to their trusted network of online influencers—who write on blogs, Facebook, or Twitter; post compelling images to visual platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat; and offer up their firsthand perspective and recommendations within e-commerce reviews—when they need insight before making a purchasing decision.
How far have we come? In our recent Influence Central research study on e-commerce reviews, 95% of women consumers say they consider insights found in an online review to be more helpful than input from a salesperson.
Moreover, as the consumer marketplace continues its dramatic shift online, we’ve seen again and again the powerful effects of Influencer Marketing—and how trusted, passionate, first-person recommendations prove the most powerful way to influence consumer behavior.
Here are five key ways today’s online influencers have reshaped the marketplace and transformed retail sales:
1. Online Recommendations Generate Trust: Back in the day, consumers took in top-down brand messaging via traditional media—oftentimes backed by the star power of a celebrity. But we now operate in a time where consumers have grown to distrust brand messaging. Instead, they want to hear detailed product usage information straight from the source—someone who’s used a product firsthand and who can share personal insights and reflections on that experience.
In fact, our recent research study revealed that what really mattered to consumers when reading an online review centered on issues related to trust and experience. For example, 74% of respondents wanted the reviewer to share their specific experience with the item, 63% noted the importance of the reviewer to be cited as a verified purchaser, and 61% thought the amount of detail in the review proved important.
2. Research & Reviews Reshape the Consumer Path-to-Purchase: Today’s online recommendation culture has transformed the consumer purchasing journey from the days of going store-to-store to compare products and prices. Now consumers tap into online influencers to help with product decision-making, looking at a host of online sources—from blogs to social platforms to e-commerce reviews. Moreover, as 92% of women consumers consider online reviews very/extremely important when making a purchase, digital sources have become the go-to way for consumers to learn more about the products they want to buy.
This online research also proves important regardless of how familiar a consumer may be with a brand, as 96% of consumers believe online reviews to be very/extremely important when purchasing from an unfamiliar brand and 78% feel the same about e-commerce reviews when considering a purchase from a brand they know and like. All in all, nearly 90% of women consumers say they always/most of the time do online research about a specific product they have in mind to buy.
As a result, today’s consumers—informed and enlightened by the firsthand insights of online influencers—move along the path-to-purchase with deep insight, expertise, and confidence around their prospective spends.
3. Authentic Storytelling Resonates with Today’s Consumers: In a growing sea of online content, first-person authenticity really matters for this generation of consumers—drawing consumers in and helping them to gain a deeper understanding of product features and attributes.
Consumers want to hear the voice and authentic storytelling approach of their trusted online influencers. Whether in a blog, social post, or e-commerce review, consumers look to read stories around how other real-life consumers experienced products—with significant detail so they can see how a product would fit into their lifestyle.
In fact, 31% of women consumers say they read online reviews about products they’ve bought before and may buy again because they want to see if others have had a similar experience.
4. Product Experiences Come Alive via Visual Platforms: With the rapid adoption of visually oriented social platforms, such as Pinterest, Instagram, and increasingly, Snapchat, we’ve seen the rise of what I call “visual influencers.” This new brand of influencer shares experiences and engages in vibrant storytelling entirely through images, photos, and videos.
Moreover, consumers increasingly rely on these visual platforms for product reviews, with 45% of women consumers turning to Instagram and 35% looking at Pinterest to see how these influencers share their insight and perspective.
5. Mobile Dramatically Impacts Point of Purchase Sales: Although today’s consumers conduct significant research prior to making a purchase—85% say they always/most of the time seek reviews on specific products they want to buy—online research doesn’t come to a halt once they hit a brick-and-mortar store. Even while in-store, consumers still feel the pull of online influencers as 70% of consumers say they sometimes/often/all of the time check online reviews from their phones while shopping.
Why? Consumers remain focused on making the most of the family budget, and even as they stand in-store ready to make a purchase, 35% still feel compelled to check their phone to see if they can get a better deal. In addition, as consumers weigh their options around buying a new product, 33% say consulting an e-commerce review helps them come to a purchasing decision.