February 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Reluctant shoppers can be persuaded by reviews and promotions, study says

48% of web shoppers plan to spend less this year than they did in 2008, but 61% of consumers who are reluctant to buy this year say web resources such as recommendations and promotional e-mails would help convince them to buy, a new study finds.

48% of web shoppers plan to spend less this year than they did in 2008, but 61% of consumers who are reluctant to buy this year say web resources such as recommendations and promotional e-mails would help convince them to buy, according to a new study by JupiterResearch, a unit of Forrester Research Inc.

The study also found that many consumers turn to the web to do research about products before they buy. 89% of online shoppers researching products cite retailer web sites and stores as a preferred resource, 86% cite search engines, 78% manufacturer web sites, 77% customer reviews and ratings, 66% “people who bought” recommendations, 65% “recently viewed” recommendations, 61% e-mail recommendations, and 61% “people who viewed” recommendations, the study reports.

The study, which surveyed more than 800 U.S. online consumers, was co-sponsored by customer reviews technology vendor Bazaarvoice Inc. and product recommendations technology vendor richrelevance.

The study found that online shoppers will be more reluctant to make purchases in 2009 than they were last year primarily in the automotive (50%), travel (46%) and consumer electronics (43%) segments. Consumers looking to reduce their spend are particularly diligent about shopping around-42% visited three or more sites to research their last purchase.

Because the economy has soured, consumers are being very cautious when it comes to where they shop and how much they spend; offering tools and content that can help them make a decision is an important strategy for e-retailers, says Bazaarvoice chief marketing officer Sam Decker.

“The economy is amplifying consumers’ need to be convinced compared with when times were good and people were not reluctant,” Decker says. “People who are reluctant need the extra justification.”

Customer reviews and product recommendations can help convince reluctant shoppers in the short-term and become more powerful in the long-term as more reviews are added and recommendations are based on more data, says richrelevance CEO David Selinger.

“These technologies enhance the online customer experience, and that’s the way to battle Amazon’s increasing market share-provide a great experience,” Selinger says. “We’ve seen a marked increase in return customers as a result of retailers focusing on providing a great experience for their shoppers. That’s the most cost-effective and most meaningful way to get a customer to shop at a site.”

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