February 1, 2012, 10:17 AM

Strangers become online shopping advisers

Young shoppers trust user-generated content crafted by strangers, a survey finds.

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For shoppers in their mid-teens to mid-30s, the opinions of friends and family aren’t as important as those of total strangers—that is, assuming those strangers are of a like mind, according to a new survey conducted by ratings and reviews provider Bazaarvoice Inc., and research firms the Center for Generational Kinetics LLC and Kelton Research.

51% of shoppers born between 1977 and 1995, which the report calls Millennials, say that user-generated content, such as product reviews, that come from strangers is more likely to influence their buying decisions than recommendations from friends, family and colleagues. Only 34% of Baby Boomers agreed.

The report is based on a survey of 1,013 consumers conducted between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. 

But not just any random person’s opinion will do. Shoppers seek like-minded or experienced, knowledgeable consumers, the survey found. “That’s a powerful indication that Millennials think differently about whose opinions they can trust,” says Lisa Pearson, vice president of brands at Bazaarvoice.

However, the report doesn’t suggest Millennials are uninterested in the opinions of relatives and friends—49% of respondents say that they do rely on their opinions. In fact, such consumers are three times as likely to turn to social channels to get feedback from their connections who share their common interests than are Baby Boomers.

84% of Millennial consumers say user-generated content has at least some impact on the products they buy—and 70% of Baby Boomers agree. That means retailers have to spark the creation of content, says Pearson. That could be encouraging customers to write product reviews or adding elements like Facebook plug-ins. One such plug-in, the Comments Box, allows comments a consumer posts to an e-retail or other web site to appear both on the site and on the Facebook pages of the reviewer’s friends.

“People expect to see user-generated content,” Pearson says. “They want to be able to see what like-minded people think—on a retailer’s site, on social channels and elsewhere.”

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