The consumer electronics (CE) market is exploding with laptops, phones, tablets, smart TVs, and an ever-increasing number of connected devices we’re still making up names for (“phablets”?). With all these new toys to choose from, to whom do consumers turn for purchase advice: The experts who’ve made a career of evaluating new technologies, or the users like them who use these devices day-to-day?

New research from Weber Shandwick has a confident answer: Consumer reviews are much more influential on CE purchases than those from professional critics. The survey of 2,004 American adults who recently purchased CE products is rich with stats. Bradford Williams, the firm’s President, North American Technology Practice, sums up the report:

“As the landscape of product reviews becomes more fragmented and complex, marketers need to pay more attention than ever to their influence in consumers’ buying decisions. Perhaps product reviews should be counted as the fifth ‘P’ in today’s CE marketing plans.”

Consumers pay attention to consumer reviews over professional reviews by more than a three-to-one margin.

The vast majority (77%) of CE shoppers pay more attention to opinions from other consumers than those from professional critics. Positive consumer feedback is extremely important to 71% of Americans when making a consumer electronics purchase. That lands consumer feedback at a close third behind price (78%) and product features (77%) in importance. Meanwhile, only 52% consider critics’ assessments extremely important.

This dominance of consumer opinions held up in all 10 individual CE categories studied. Sixty-six percent of shoppers relied on opinions from peers over critics for PCs/tablets/laptops, 66% for smartphones, 69% for Blu-Ray and DVD players, and 77% for MP3 players.

Almost every CE shopper (95%) is more confident after reading consumer opinions.

The vast majority (86%) also feel more confident in a purchase decision because of professional critiques. When shoppers “need a gut check” on a final purchase decision, 40% consult consumer feedback.

These confident consumers spend more. Across Bazaarvoice clients, we find that shoppers who read CE reviews show 37% higher conversion, 12% higher average order value, and 48% higher revenue per visit. In the case of Windows 8, for example, positive user sentiment has helped balance out some less rosy professional reviews – and the platform’s positive sales numbers reflect that.

Absence of negative reviews will lose the attention of over half of CE shoppers.

Americans read 11 CE user reviews on average before pulling the trigger and buying a product. But they’re split on which feedback is most important: 48% pay more attention to positive reviews, but 52% give their attention to negative opinions. So, it’s important for CE brands and retailers to have both positive and negative opinions available – lest about half of shoppers leave your site looking for the opinions they need somewhere else. Luckily, the average rating for CE products is high – 3.99 stars across Bazaarvoice clients – and 78% of reviewers would recommend the product to a friend.

But CE manufacturers shouldn’t fear those inevitable negative reviews that appear. For shoppers to doubt the quality of a CE product, 31% of reviews have to be negative. And something negative for one buyer isn’t necessarily negative for everyone. A father complaining of a TV remote’s small parts as potential choking hazards won’t dissuade a bachelorette from buying.

Sixty-five percent of CE shoppers were inspired to buy a brand they weren’t previously considering after reading a positive consumer opinion.

Consumer reviews can expand a shopper’s consideration set to previously looked-over brands and products. CE shoppers are likely to turn to consumer opinions when they don’t have a specific brand or model in mind (38% seek reviews) and when deciding between different brands or models (41%).

Feedback can also be helpful when shopping for someone else with different needs and preferences, such as when shopping for holiday gifts. A large majority of consumers (83%) expected to consider consumer and/or professional reviews for their 2012 holiday gift selection at the time of the study. And more than half (52%) reported that they now assign more weight to this feedback as part of their holiday shopping experience.

A combination of both professional and consumer reviews becomes more important at higher price points.

For CE items between $100 and $499, 41% of shoppers always consult consumer opinions while only 28% always consult professional analyses. But for items $1000 to $4999, there is less disparity between and more reliance on both forms of critiques – 54% always consult consumer reviews and 46% always consult professional evaluations.

So, it’s important for consumer electronics brands to cultivate a healthy mix of both reviews from everyday product users and from professional critics. But when push comes to shove, shoppers overwhelmingly look for opinions from regular consumers like them.

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Hi Michael, I do the same. Negative reviews can help set realistic expectations for buyers, so that they get what they expected. Thanks for your comment!

  • Michael

    As a consumer, business owner and someone who runs an online store ( http://www.projectorsuperstore.com ), I read review on just about everything i purchase online and we are buying stuff weekly. I do focus on the negative reviews more than the positive. I like to know what the week points of a product is. And yes if a reviewer knocks of a point or two because and item only has one HDMI out or it is heavier than something eslse, I will still purchase the item, because I know it only has one and I know the weight. it was in the specs. – I want to know if the wifi signal is week, or if it stopped working after a few days.

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Hi Adam, you’re right, this survey is specific to Americans shoppers in the consumer electronics category. And as the conclusion suggests, a mix of both professional and consumer reviews is a brand’s best bet. Thank you for reading!

  • Adam Rayner

    I am a pro reviewer. The crucial thing is “The survey of 2,004 American adults” and that is the nub for me as a Brit. For that same pompous, ivory tower Britishness that Kevin Cline expressed in Fish Called Wanda, is also what makes a UK review by a professional ‘worth ten times any from anywhere else’. Which is a mad over statement but does mean that survey may well read a bit different in the UK. Meanwhile the conclusion STILL remains that I get to keep my job!