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Online Feedback Influences Spending

Some 84% of Americans say online customer evaluations influence their decisions about whether to purchase products or services.

Customer feedback online can make or break Internet sales, giving power to a minority of Internet shoppers, according to results of a recent survey.

Opinion Research Corp. reported Wednesday that 84% of Americans say online customer evaluations influence their decisions about whether to purchase products or services. On the other hand, just 28% of respondents said they posted their own feedback online. The group surveyed 1,004 adults from Feb. 20 through Feb. 23.

"Our findings suggest that a very vocal minority may have an oversized influence on buyer behavior," Linda Shea, senior VP and global managing director of Opinion Research's customer strategies practice, said in a statement released Wednesday. "Nevertheless, when negative customer feedback is served up in a very public forum, it has great potential to tarnish the reputation of a brand and therefore any future revenue stream."

Sixty-six percent of respondents said they checked online reviews when seeking a specific brand of product or service, and 50% said they relied on Internet feedback early in their decision-making.

"This is critical for companies to understand as they fight to be considered by consumers and look for ways to be ever present through a variety of channels and media outlets," Shea said. "Taking a more proactive approach to participating in, monitoring, and controlling online reviews may very well be one of the many ways organizations can influence both consumer consideration, and, ultimately, the buying decision."

The most common purchases that consumers researched online include travel, electronic goods, household products and services, clothing, automotive goods and services, personal care products and services, and food. The most popular online forums for investigating products include company Web sites, online rating systems, and government or consumer advocacy sites. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they seek feedback on company Web sites, while 57% said they turn to online rating systems and 54% said they research government or consumer advocacy Web sites.

Shea said that online research increases in basic shopping categories as consumers cope with a challenging economy.

"Companies who offer products and services in those categories should find ways to get involved in and leverage these forums to their advantage," she said.

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