For Auto Buyers, Online Reviews' Influence Rivals Professional Opinions
Consumer use of user-generated online reviews has become critical to the automotive sector, according to a new eMarketer report, “Automotive Consumer Reviews: Social and Mobile Change the Car-Buying Game.” As trust in this content solidifies and technology enables more shoppers to contribute car-buying opinions, users reviews are becoming among the most influential type of review, rivaling once-dominant professional reviews.
And posting reviews or opinions about purchased cars is far from a fringe activity. An October 2012 survey by Performics and ROI Research found that among social network users who said they took some sort of post-purchase action online (e.g., posting a photo of the purchase, responding to a retailer’s prompt for feedback, filling out a warranty card online), 22% reported posting a review or other comment after an automobile purchase.
The influence of user reviews stretches throughout the car-buying process, from consideration of vehicles to conversion at the brand and dealership levels.
An August 2012 study by Google, Compete, R.L. Polk and TNS Global looked at the activities consumers conducted on auto manufacturer websites, comparing the behavior of buyers who were focused on a single brand with those who were considering four or more brands. It showed that multiple-brand consumers were twice as likely to read consumer reviews on those sites.
Wide adoption of social media has also had an impact on automakers, and on the car-buying purchase funnel. For automakers, this means a popular product or campaign can enjoy millions of endorsements on social media platforms with little investment on their end. Yet almost any problem can turn into a potential lost sale if a consumer complaint is widely circulated.
A global Capgemini survey of new-vehicle buyers who had used the internet to research vehicles found that fully 61% of those in so-called mature markets, including the US, said they had used some form of social channel, including blogs and discussion forums, social networking sites and user-generated information sites. The response rate in developing markets was even higher, 95%.
But not all consumers consult reviews the same way, and different sources of information tend to be used in different ways.
“If you want a hybrid, you’ll want to confirm the mileage. If you’re looking for a truck for work use, you’re likely to want to read an in-depth review,” said Michael Bernacchi, professor of business administration at the University of Detroit Mercy. “You see the more particular a consumer is about what segment they are researching, the more evidence they will be seeking out to justify their decision.”
Appetite for reviews tends to be a good indicator of actual buying intent. Internal numbers provided to eMarketer by automotive review and pricing site Edmunds.com showed readers of the site’s professionally written “Road Tests” were 330% more likely to buy a vehicle than average site visitors. Readers of the site’s “Forums,” home to thousands of amateur reviews, were 590% more likely to buy.