Amazon top-rated Halloween costumes“Turning consumer opinions into gold” – that’s how a recent Business Week article described Amazon’s use of customer reviews on their ecommerce site. The article goes on to discuss the “new reality” of shopping in the Digital Age: consumers rarely make purchases anymore without consulting the internet.

If customers consult the Internet – whether shopping online or going into store after research – chances are they’ll run into user generated content. And for brands and retailers, that’s a good thing. A July 2009 study by Nielsen finds the most trusted forms of ‘media’ are “recommendations from people I know” (92%) and “consumer opinions posted online” (72%). This hasn’t changed.

The growing trend of user generated content is shifting the way consumers think about their purchases. 70% of Americans consult product ratings or reviews before making purchases, and 84% of Americans say they’re more likely to read reviews before making a purchase than they were a year ago.

Retail experts say information-based shoppers are busy, educated workers with broadband connections. Their time-crunched lifestyles and suspicion of advertising drives them online to hunt for quality and value. The convenience and bargains found online lead these shoppers to research both online and offline purchases before buying. And it’s not just big, expensive purchases they’re researching; research for consumer products, like cleaning solutions, is up as well.

eMarketer suggests ratings and reviews are a mature community feature for retailer, yet only 50% of multi-channel retailers feature reviews. And those that do have huge opportunities to leverage them in new ways.

Put your consumer/shopping hat on, and you will see a lot of reviews (and other user generated content) this holiday season to help you buy. Now, put that marketing hat on, and ask yourself how you’re using the voice of the customer to drive your business. Then, ask your executives if they’re in the one of the 84% who are going to use reviews too!

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