January 6, 2009, 12:00 AM

Online shoppers read reviews, but make up their own minds, Forrester says

A negative review won’t necessarily kill a sale, and positive reviews don’t cinch the deal, according to a Forrester Research survey. The results also show consumers consider reviews valuable in many product categories.

Many online retailers believe a negative customer review will slam product sales, and that shoppers only value other consumers’ opinions in such product categories as electronics and appliances where there are tangible features and functions to evaluate. Wrong on both counts, write Forrester Research analysts Sucharita Mulpuru and Peter Hult in a report entitled “Myths and Truths About Online Customer Reviews.”

About half the online shoppers surveyed by Forrester say they have purchased a product despite reading a negative review. 37% said that after reading a negative review they then turned to professionally written reviews, 26% continued to shop for the product and 18% looked for a vendor that offered a money-back guarantee on the item, according to a Forrester survey of 2,890 web shoppers. Only 14% say they always trust a negative review.

Nor does an enthusiastic review clinch a sale, Forrester says. “While nearly two-thirds of online shoppers claim that a positive review will increase the likelihood that they will purchase a product, 35% report purchasing indifference to favorable assessments,” the report says.

The survey also found that consumers consider reviews valuable when shopping for all kinds of merchandise. While they were viewed as most helpful in consumer electronics (76% of respondents saying they are valuable in that category), they were also viewed as having considerable value in toys (56%), sporting goods (53%), apparel, footwear and accessories (47%) and jewelry (40%).

Among the truths Forrester confirmed was that many online consumers like to read and write reviews. 81% say they read reviews and 35% write them, according to the Forrester data. And two in five say they are partial to sites that offer customer reviews.

At least 53% of consumers who have been shopping online for at least four years trust customer reviews, compared with 44% of those shopping on the web one to three years and 43% less than a year. Younger consumers put more weight in reviews, which are trusted by 60% of those 18 to 28, declining steadily to 35% of those 64 and older.

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