LONDON: Online consumer reviews and word-of-mouth have the greatest influence on consumer purchase decisions in Europe, but advertising is typically not regarded as playing a central role, according to a study by Weber Shandwick.

The company conducted a survey of 4,692 people in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK in order to establish which channels were most important in shaping buyer behaviour.

Online advocacy, such as consumer reviews, was accorded this status by 26% of the panel, and also took the top spot in each of the markets assessed.

Friends and family were ranked in second place in every country, with an average of 20% of participants regarding this form of communication as exerting a major impact their choices.

The recommendations of shop staff registered a score of 13%, with newspapers and magazines on 12%, brand websites on 11%, and both broadcast media and advertising on 9%.

By country, the preference for online advocacy reached a peak of 26% in the UK and Germany, and a low of 23% in France.

Friends and family had the greatest significance in Germany, with a score of 22%, compared with 18% in Italy and 17% in Spain.

Advertising did not post a total surpassing 10% in any of the markets assessed, with the sample in Belgium awarding it the lowest degree of relevance, with a total of 7%.

Overall, the study argued that "there is much cross-fertilisation between channels, with consumers checking out facts and opinions in print, on the radio and TV as well as the web."

"No longer can brand communicators just pay lip service to digital channels. The growth of digital media – social and otherwise – has driven consumers online to research and validate their purchasing decisions," it added.

Data sourced from PRWeek/Inline Communications; additional content by Warc staff