MILLBRAE, California: America's consumers are spending an increasing amount of time online researching products and weighing the views of other purchasers before they commit to the act of buying, according to the 2007 Social-Shopping Study.

The survey, by US firm PowerReviews, says it has identified a new breed of consumer, dubbed the 'social researcher', who places significant emphasis on peer feedback in product reviews when making purchasing decisions.

The study, which questioned 1,200 consumers who shop online at least four times per year and spend at least $500 (€342.7m; £241.8m) annually, found around 65% of respondents were social researchers who "always" read reviews, whether they are shopping at a store, from a catalog or via the web.

In addition the survey reveals that 86% of social researchers find customer reviews "extremely" or "very important", versus 70% of all online shoppers; 76% of social researchers find "top rated product" lists to be extremely or very important, versus 62% of all online shoppers.

The study was carried out after a spate of toy recalls and food safety scares in the US during the summer.

Comments PowerReviews' marketing vp Jay Shaffer: "When parents and others have concerns about the quality of the products they are buying, they are more likely to pay attention to recommendations by other shoppers like themselves."

Almost 70% of the respondents said they wanted more reviews on sites selling toys, video games, while around 55% wanted reviews on sporting goods, gifts and specialty foods.

Many marketers have shied from including customers' reviews on their websites, fearing that negative feedback could affect reputation and sales, but others have embraced the opportunity for a 'dialogue' with shoppers - even those who are less than complimentary.

Speciality clothing retailer Eastern Mountain Sports, based in new Hampshire, often posts a response to complaints by reviewers next to the negative review.

Explains chief marketer Scott Barrett: "Not only can a reply to a user review improve that customer's experience, but others will see this genuine dialogue and be more likely to stick around."

Data sourced from Adweek (USA); additional content by WARC staff