BOSTON: An increasing number of US consumers are conducting online research to verify the word of mouth recommendations they receive about companies and brands.

Cone, the agency, surveyed 1,055 adults in the US, finding that 63% of respondents saw family members as the primary source of trustworthy advice, ahead of friends on 31% and co-workers on just 2%.

However, 81% of the panel now turned to the web to supplement this guidance, climbing to 91% for 25–34 year olds.

A further 77% were “more likely” to buy products after locating relevant information on the internet, a total that grew to 90% among 25–34 year olds.

The most common activities included researching goods and services on 61%, reading user-generated reviews on 55% and logging on to comparison sites rating various products, on 43%.

Only 38% sought out the views of experts in a particular category on the net, falling to 28% when it came to accessing blog posts and 10% for soliciting opinions on social networks.

By sector, 72% of contributors looked to the web to track down more details concerning recommended restaurants, rising to 82% in the automotive segment and 85% for IT.

Elsewhere, 66% used the internet to authenticate firms' health and safety claims, and 55% did so regarding the environmental credentials of corporations.

"Consumers have become extremely savvy about how brands are marketing to them," said Bill Fleishman, president and head of brand marketing at Cone.

"Partly due to an increased scepticism toward brand marketing, consumers have elongated the decision-making process to seek additional sources of affirmation before making up their minds."

Some 68% of the sample agreed that critical electronic word of mouth exerted an impact on what they chose to buy, while 80% said positive feedback reinforced their existing preferences.

Two-thirds of participants tended to undertake extra investigations on the internet relating to products "they'll own for many years", with a similar number choosing this route when unfamiliar with a specific sector.

"Online verification is now the deciding factor to drive consumers to that final purchase. Marketers who ignore this behavior shift will miss out on a golden opportunity to influence purchase decisions,” said Fleishman.

"Reaching influencers online is no longer a nice to do – it is a must do."

Data sourced from Cone; additional content by Warc staff