Survey at a Glance:
The Ever-Growing Power of Reviews (2023 edition) is based on a survey of 8,153 U.S. consumers fielded in April 2023. Here’s a high level look at our key findings.
- 99.5% of shoppers research purchases online at least sometimes. Nearly 87% do so regularly or always.
- Amazon is the most common place to start the purchase journey. 50% of consumers search here first when shopping online.
- Aside from Amazon, shoppers turn to many other websites throughout the purchase journey, including Google, brand websites, and retailer websites.
- 77% of shoppers specifically seek out websites with ratings and reviews.
- The most popular places for consumers to read reviews are Amazon (94%), retail websites (91%), search engines (70%), and brand websites (68%).
- 74% of consumers say that ratings and reviews are a key way they learn about products they’ve never purchased before.
- Nine in 10 consumers say they consider reviews when making a purchase decision.
- Again this year, ratings and reviews are the most important factor impacting purchase decisions. 93% of shoppers say this content impacts whether or not they purchase a product.
- 99.75% of online shoppers read reviews at least sometimes; 91% do so always or regularly.
- 98% of shoppers say reviews are an essential resource when making purchase decisions.
- Nearly half (45%) of consumers won’t purchase a product if there are no reviews available for it.
- 78% of consumers say the more expensive the product, the more they read reviews.
- Nearly all (98%) of consumers are more likely to read reviews for a product they’ve never purchased before.
There was a time when consumers did nearly all of their shopping within the four walls of a brick-and-mortar store. In those days, marketing tactics like TV commercials and magazine ads had a big influence on consumers’ purchase decisions. As such, brands and retailers invested heavily in those areas.
Those days are long gone.
Today, consumers spend a large (and growing) portion of their budgets online – a trend that accelerated at the onset of the pandemic. And when consumers do opt to shop online, they face nearly endless options across any product or service category.
Many brands and retailers continue to invest significantly in traditional marketing channels in an effort to reach shoppers. But these tactics don’t hold the power they once did.
Consumers are no longer content to be talked “at” by brands. It’s feedback from peers – rather than traditional marketing tactics – that impacts their behavior and decisions most.
Brands and retailers must adapt their strategies accordingly. But how?
The first step is to understand how modern consumers navigate the online shopping journey – and the tools and information they turn to when making purchase decisions.
Recently, we surveyed more than 9,000 consumers in the U.S. to understand:
- Where they’re shopping
- What factors influence them throughout the purchase journey
- The role ratings and reviews play every step of the way
In this report, we’ll share our key findings as well as recommendations for brands and retailers looking to optimize their acquisition strategies and increase ROI.
Who We Surveyed
This report is based on a survey of 8,153 US consumers, fielded in March 2023. Here’s a closer look at who we surveyed.
Average Overall Monthly Online Spend
Where Modern Consumers Browse & Buy Online
Ecommerce was already growing at a steady clip. The pandemic poured fuel on the fire.
Most Consumers Research Online
Today, the vast majority of consumers – 99.5% – turn to the internet at least sometimes to research purchases. Nearly 87% do so regularly or always.
Of note, younger shoppers tend to conduct online research before making a purchase more frequently than their older counterparts. 55.75% of Gen Z’ers always do so, compared to 34% of Boomers.
Amazon is a Common Starting Point
There are nearly endless options available to online shoppers. Where do they most commonly start the purchase journey?
Amazon tops the list, with half of consumers indicating it’s where they search first when shopping online. Next up is Google (31.5%), followed by brand or retailer websites (14%).
There are some notable differences based on generation. For example, Gen Z’ers are the group least likely to start their search on Amazon. On the other hand, these young shoppers are more likely than older shoppers to start their search on social media.
Consumers Turn to Many Websites Throughout the Purchase Journey
We know Amazon is the most common place to start a product search. But consumers aren’t solely using Amazon to research and purchase products.
Instead, they’re turning to many different websites to browse and buy. And oftentimes, they’re doing so quite frequently.
A couple of trends are clear. The first is that consumers leverage Google more frequently than any other channel. Also of note, younger shoppers use all four channels more often than older consumers.
Reviews Impact Where Consumers Shop
There’s no doubt many factors impact where consumers choose to shop online. But ratings and reviews are certainly high on the list.
This year, over three-quarters (77%) of shoppers specifically seek out websites with ratings and reviews.
Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to seek out websites with reviews than older generations.
Shoppers Read Reviews on Many Websites
We know consumers seek out websites with reviews. But what sites do they most commonly turn to?
Again this year, Amazon (94%) tops the list, followed by retail websites such as Target.com and Walmart.com (91%). Search engines (70%) and brand websites (68%) are also popular destinations for finding and consuming review content.
Key Factors Impacting Purchasing Behavior
In the best of times, consumers do plenty of research before making a purchase. That’s even more true in times of uncertainty.
Nearly three-quarters of consumers are researching purchases more than before due to the current economic climate. This number is even higher – 78% – among Gen Z shoppers.
We explore information sources shoppers look to when making purchase decisions but first let’s explore the critical factors – at a most basic level – that dictate whether consumers will buy a product or not.
Ratings and Reviews a Bigger Influence Than Price
Most strikingly of all, ratings and reviews again are considered by consumers to be more important than other key influences – including price, free shipping and free returns. Fast shipping and brand are considered less important than each of these factors.
How Consumers Research Products
When it comes to deeper research of products, our survey highlighted some key findings. Unsurprisingly, consumers are now more deeply scrutinizing purchases given overriding economic conditions.
With the continual rise of social media and influencer marketing, shoppers are not short on sources to seek information on products they’re considering buying. Again, ratings and reviews come in as the most important resource for consumer product research.
Consumers Weigh Many Factors
Consumers consider many factors when weighing purchase decisions. But customer ratings and reviews rise to the top. Nine in 10 consumers indicate this is something they consider when making purchase decisions.
Customer photos and videos and recommendations from friends and family are tied for second place. 73% of consumers consider each of these factors when making purchase decisions.
Now, let’s take a closer look at how some of these factors impact behavior throughout the purchase journey.
Customer Ratings and Reviews
Ratings and reviews have become the top factor impacting purchase decisions. In fact, consumers have come to rely on this content throughout the purchase journey.
For starters, ratings and reviews are the #1 tool for product discovery. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers use this content to learn about new (or new to them) products.
In addition, ratings and reviews are the factor consumers trust the most. Nine in ten (91%) say they trust ratings and reviews when making purchase decisions.
In fact, 82% of consumers trust ratings and reviews as much as (or more than) they do recommendations from family members or friends. This number is even higher among Gen Z (88%) and Millennial (84%) shoppers.
However, it’s important to note that over half (56%) of consumers don’t trust star ratings alone as much as they do star ratings accompanied by written reviews. Clearly, consumers value and trust knowing the why behind the star rating.
When it comes to making a purchase decision, certain factors carry more weight than others. Again this year, ratings and reviews are the most important factor impacting purchase decisions. 93% of consumers indicate that this content impacts whether or not they decide to purchase a product. In fact, ratings and reviews even outweigh financial factors including product price (93%), free shipping (75%), and free returns or exchanges (63%)
User-Generated Photos and Videos
Brand- or retailer- provided ratings and reviews are important. But increasingly, it’s photos and videos from other consumers that impact shoppers’ behavior.
60% of consumers turn to user-generated imagery to learn about products they’ve never purchased before.
There’s tremendous value in seeing a product being used by a real person in real life. It’s no wonder why 77% of consumers trust user-generated imagery when making purchase decisions.
In fact, the presence (or absence) of user-generated visual content can make or break a sale. Over half (53%) of shoppers say that this content impacts whether or not they decide to purchase a product.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth has always had a big impact on the purchase journey. That’s still the case. Today, 60% of consumers say that recommendations from their family and friends are a key way they learn about new (or new to them) products.
Furthermore, 79% indicate they trust personal recommendations. However, as mentioned earlier, many consumers trust ratings and reviews as much as – if not more so – than recommendations from family members and friends.
Finally, 59% say a personal recommendation impacts whether they decide to purchase the product in question.
Search Engine Results
As we explored earlier in this report, Google and other search engines are a common starting point for shoppers. It’s not surprising, then, that 63% of consumers use search engine results as a tool to learn about products they’ve never purchased before.
When making purchase decisions, half (50%) of consumers indicate they trust search results on Google or other search engines. One way to boost that trust is to display star ratings alongside search engine results – which is possible if your site is structured according to Schema.org standards.
The Impact of Site Search Results on Shopper Behavior
After landing on a brand or retailer site, many consumers use the site’s search box to identify products that fit their needs. Today, nearly half (47%) of consumers use search results on retail sites to learn about new (to them) products. Furthermore, 49% place their trust in the site’s search results.
We know consumers trust ratings and reviews – and their presence impacts purchase decisions. As such, consider adding star ratings and review counts to your site search results pages. This information will boost shoppers’ trust – and entice them to learn more.
Consumers use social media to keep in touch with family and friends. But they also use these channels to discover products. Facebook is the most popular channel for product discovery, with 37% of consumers indicating they use it to learn about new products.
A good number of consumers place their trust in social media, with Facebook topping the list.
Traditional Marketing Channels Don’t Have the Pull They Once Did
In the past, brands and retailers invested most of their marketing dollars in traditional channels like TV commercials and celebrity and influencer endorsements. But today, these channels don’t have the impact they once did.
In addition, few consumers place their trust in these traditional tactics when it comes to making a purchase decision.
To state the obvious, it’s important to invest in marketing the strategies that’ll have the biggest impact. And it’s clear that shoppers value the authenticity of content created by “real-life” users, with trust in this much higher than more obviously brand-curated materials.
That doesn’t mean you should abandon traditional marketing tactics altogether. For one, these techniques serve a different purpose providing value at different stages of the buying journey or funnel.
Given the popularity of user-generated content, however, consider incorporating user-generated content – including ratings, reviews, photos, and video – into your other marketing programs, including email marketing, social media ads, and even print ads. This content can increase shoppers’ trust – and drive more impactful product discovery.
Reliance on Reviews
We know reviews are a top purchase consideration. Now, let’s take a closer look at how consumers have come to depend on this content.
Nearly All Online Shoppers Read Reviews
Today, just about all (99.75%) of online shoppers read reviews at least sometimes. 91% do so always or regularly.
Notably, younger consumers tend to read reviews more frequently than their older counterparts.
What’s also interesting is that consumers with the lowest household incomes are the most likely to say they always read reviews. This is likely because these folks have less disposable income – and thus do more pre-purchase research to ensure they’re making smart purchase decisions.
Reviews are Essential
Reviews aren’t just important for consumers. They’re essential. Nearly all (98%) shoppers indicate they’re an essential resource when making purchase decisions.
Consumers of all ages feel reviews are essential. However, younger consumers are more likely to strongly agree with this sentiment.
A Lack of Reviews Deters Shoppers
It’s clear consumers place a lot of weight on ratings and reviews. In addition, we know that the very presence of reviews increases shopper confidence – and conversion. A recent analysis found that there’s a 108.6% lift in conversion when shoppers interact with ratings and reviews.
But what happens if a shopper looks for reviews and comes up short? Nearly half (45%) simply won’t purchase a product if there are no ratings and reviews available for it. This number is even higher among Gen Z (58%) and Millennial (48%) shoppers.
The bottom line? Brands and retailers can’t afford not to display ratings and reviews.
When Reviews Matter Most
Consumers turn to reviews when shopping for just about anything. But there are certain circumstances when this content is especially important.
Reviews are Important for High-Priced Items
There’s a level of risk associated with purchasing a product sight unseen. As the price increases, so too does the risk.
So, it’s probably not surprising that 78% of consumers say that the more expensive the product, the more they read reviews. This number is even higher among Gen Z (83%) and Millennial (82%) shoppers.
And, as was the case last year, those with higher household incomes are more likely to say they read more reviews for expensive products. A likely explanation is that those with higher incomes are more likely to purchase higher priced products.
Reviews are Important for Unknown Products
A shopper is unlikely to consult reviews when purchasing tried and true products – such as their go-to shampoo or cereal. But when considering a new (or new to them) product, reviews are essential.
Nearly all (98%) of consumers indicate they’re more likely to read reviews for a product they’ve never purchased before. In fact, shoppers across all generations and income brackets are significantly more likely to consult reviews when considering a new product.
A Solid Brand Reputation Boosts Shoppers’ Trust in Products Without Reviews
Ultimately, the goal is to generate reviews across all products in your catalog. However, your brand’s overall reputation can boost shoppers’ trust in the absence of reviews for a specific product. 63% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product without reviews if other products manufactured by the same brand have a high overall rating.
5 Key Takeaways
Consumers have nearly endless options. In order to compete, brands and retailers must first have a clear understanding of what those consumers expect throughout the purchase journey – and how different factors impact their behavior.
Read on for five key takeaways from our latest survey.
Modern consumers trust feedback from their peers over anything else, with reviews regarded as (marginally) more important than price when making purchase decisions.
Similarly, 82% of consumers trust ratings and reviews as much as or more than recommendations from family members or friends.
Brands and retailers must work to preserve these high levels of trust shoppers clearly have in review content. It’s therefore essential to have a moderation process in place that filters out fake or fraudulent content. But never filter out content solely based on the star rating. Negative reviews help shoppers make informed purchase decisions and bolster trust.
In addition, over half (56%) of shoppers don’t feel a star rating alone is as trustworthy as a star rating with an accompanying review. As such, make written commentary a required field in your write-a-review form.
By now, the vast majority of consumers browse and buy online. 99.5% of shoppers research purchases online at least sometimes, and 87% regularly or always do so.
The presence (or absence) of reviews impacts where they choose to shop online. Over three-quarters (77%) specifically seek out websites with ratings and reviews and nearly all (99.5%) read reviews.
It’s essential to collect and display ratings and reviews across your entire product catalog. Doing so is key to attracting shoppers early in the purchase journey.
Today, a staggering 98% of consumers say reviews are an essential resource when making purchase decisions. Ratings and reviews guide shoppers – whether they’re just starting to learn about products or getting ready to make a purchase decision.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) use ratings and reviews to learn about products they’ve never purchased before. And 93% say this content impacts whether or not they purchase a product.
Collecting and displaying reviews is an important way to connect with shoppers, wherever they may be on the purchase journey.
Consumers rely on reviews across myriad product and service categories. However, there are times when reviews are especially important.
One such circumstance is when a shopper is considering a higher priced item. 78% of shoppers say they read more reviews for more expensive items.
In addition, reviews are particularly important when a consumer is considering a new (or new to them) brand or product. 98% of shoppers are more likely to read reviews for a product they’ve never bought before.
The ultimate goal is to generate a high volume of reviews for products across your entire catalog. However, it’s especially important to focus on generating reviews for your higher priced and newer product offerings. The presence of this content will help shoppers overcome the risk involved with purchasing a higher priced or unknown product.
One thing is clear: ratings and reviews have the power to influence behavior throughout the purchase journey. If you’re like most brands and retailers, you understand this and have been collecting and displaying ratings and reviews for some time.
But developing a ratings and reviews strategy shouldn’t be a one-time event. Instead, be sure to measure the performance of your ratings and reviews program to identify areas for improvement. By making data-based optimizations, you can meet shoppers’ expectations – and start seeing a larger impact from your review collection and display efforts.