April 27, 2007, 12:00 AM

Online customer reviews influencing sales at luxury brands

84% of consumers earning more than $150,000 annually visit sites where customers review and rate products and services including restaurants, according to a survey from The Luxury Institute.

Word of mouth marketing, already an effective marketing technique, has become “brutally efficient” thanks to online forums for customer ratings and reviews, according to a report from The Luxury Institute. 84% of consumers earning more than $150,000 annually visit sites where customers review and rate products and services including restaurants, according to the report, “Leveraging the Internet Habits of the Wealthy.”

Women and wealthy baby boomers between ages 45 and 54 are especially inclined to gather fellow consumers’ opinions before they make a purchase, the survey found. 61% of those surveyed visit the online customer forums on sites such as Amazon.com and CircuitCity.com. The fee-based Consumer Reports web site, featuring professional ratings and reviews, is visited regularly by 51% of wealthy consumers surveyed.

“Across the luxury spectrum, nimble luxury firms understand the world has just become transparent and there is nowhere to hide,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute, a research organization. “If you have rigid customer processes such as onerous return policies, confusing fees, conflicted endorsements, etc., fix them now and favor the customer. If you are not socially responsible, bet that consumers will gang up on you online.”

The survey population consisted of 1,060 consumers who shop online.

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