When it comes to a high consideration product that consumers love to talk about, it is hard to beat the smartphone. They have become the ultimate gadget, with more features than a Swiss Army knife, and unless you are on a wilderness survival trip, we use our phones way more often.

In the US, the upgrade cycles driven by two year contracts mean that many of us spend every other year enjoying our new phones and every following year counting down the months until we’re eligible for discounts on the latest and greatest. And we research those cool new models heavily, so that we are ready to buy the perfect phone for us the first day we are eligible.

Where do shoppers turn for advice and research they can trust, given that the wrong choice can lead to regret and ridicule for the next two years?

  • Do they rely on experts who review products for a living and wax poetically about the O/S or create complex feature comparison charts?
  • How about relying on the brand marketers who describe the 50 features on the product’s web page, insisting theirs is the pinnacle in smartphone technology?
  • Or, do they actively seek the opinions of other consumers – casting their lot with the people they have never met but can be trusted to have no bias or agenda?

While all of these sources are important and play a role, it turns out that consumers have some clear preferences. Our recent survey of smartphone owners found that of the 76.5% of who performed online research, an overwhelming 94.7% read consumer reviews. Other studies found that shoppers pay attention to consumer reviews over professional reviews for smartphones by nearly a two to one margin (66% to 34%) – and by a three to one margin for consumer electronics in general. And shoppers trust consumer reviews 12 times more than brand advertising.

Smartphone shoppers seek reviews across multiple online sources

Where do they go to find these reviews? Everywhere, it turns out. Our survey found that consumers’ favorite place to read them is on the wireless carrier’s websites (77% of consumers). Most consumers check multiple other sources, and rely on them about equally – ecommerce-only merchant websites (61%), smartphone brand websites (58%), and big box retailer websites (57%). For smartphone brands, this illustrates a need to “fish where the fish are” and ensure that a significant volume of fresh reviews is available across all of these research channels.

Smartphone reviews

Reviews inspire confident purchases

For consumer electronics in general, almost every CE shopper (95%) is more confident after reading consumer opinions. In our survey of smartphone shoppers, about 78% said they gained confidence in their decision to buy the product they originally wanted. About 11% said the reviews spurred them to change products within the same brand, and another 11% of the consumers said that reviews prompted them to purchase a different brand altogether.

We also found that the impact of consumers reviews goes beyond just influencing the brand and product purchase decision.

  • 81% said they learned about additional features of the phone. Perhaps the features reinforced their decision to purchase, which may ultimately lead to greater satisfaction as they show the phone off for their friends.
  • 42% said they learned about accessories and other products that work well with the phone, driving cross-selling opportunities. Our benchmark data shows that shoppers who read consumer electronics reviews have 24% higher average order value versus those who do not read reviews.
  • 74% said they were made aware of a common issue with the phone. Perhaps these consumers are thus less likely to return their phone, clog up customer support lines, or rant online, because they were more informed about the tradeoffs before purchasing. Albeit in another industry, Petco found this to be true: They saw a 20% reduction in returns on products that had reviews, and the return rate continued to diminish once a product had over 50 reviews.

One interesting sidenote: While most of us are avid online researchers, we still prefer to purchase smartphones in a physical store. Data from Google’s fantastic Consumer Barometer reveals that for mobile phone buyers who researched online before buying, 19 of them bought in a store for every 10 that purchased their phone online. Maybe after spending so much time on online research and reading reviews, smartphone shoppers are ready for a little instant gratification – the type that can only come walking out of a store with their shiny new gadget.

The big picture here for smartphones (and really all high-consideration purchases) is that when it comes to our electronic personal assistants, shoppers need confirmation from product owners that their two-year relationship will be a happy one – and as soon as they get that endorsement, they’re ready to start.