Each time consumers glance at an online review and then click the item in question into their shopping carts, we see the transformative powers of e-commerce reviews—namely, how first-person insights and recommendations dramatically influence purchasing decisions.

At the same time, we also observe another lasting effect of e-commerce reviews—the profound impact they've had on how today's consumers actually shop.

At Influence Central, we conducted a research study of 500+ women consumers that looked at how online product reviews influence shopping habits, whether consumers trust online reviews, and how recommendations affect purchasing decisions.

The study reveals just how significantly online reviews have shaped consumer behavior: Some 85% of consumers say they consider e-commerce reviews extremely/very important when making a purchase. Moreover, 77% report buying a product online after reading online reviews about it, and 23% say they would go to a brick-and-mortar store to make their purchase after reading online reviews.

From how consumers approach a purchase to their confidence in the buying process, here are the Top 7 ways e-commerce reviews have transformed consumers' shopping behavior.

1. Transforming the Retail Experience

Today, consumers embrace online reviews: 73% say they always/most of the time seek out reviews on specific products they want to buy.

Traditionally, the retail environment centered on salespeople who provided product insight and information—all designed to encourage product purchasing. But now? When making a purchase, 91% of consumers consider an online review more important than input from a salesperson in a store.

2. Expanding the Consumer Footprint

Remember the days of feeling overmatched just by walking into an auto body shop or car dealership? Or trying to buy a stereo and having to translate "subwoofer-speak" from the guy behind the electronics counter?

All that's changed now that 71% of consumers check out reviews in specific categories (electronics, appliances, home décor, etc.) to see which product best meets their needs.

Today, online reviews allow consumers to get up-to-date information and insights on products—even ones outside their comfort zone—and stand on an equal footing with retail sales teams.

3. Changing the Face of Comparison-Shopping

Back in the day, "comparison shopping" meant running from store to store to see whether that must-have refrigerator would actually fit through the kitchen door, or dashing between department stores to see which had the best price on those hot back-to-school sneakers.

Today, before consumers ever begin shopping, 88% check out online reviews from their computers, and 87% look at e-commerce reviews both for brick-and-mortar and for online purchases—taking the legwork out of smart shopping.

4. Checking In While on the Go

Before they hit the mall, consumers steep themselves in what discerning online reviewers think about the latest kitchen gadget or skincare product; they also rely on e-commerce reviews while on the go and shopping offline.

Some 59% of women consumers check online reviews of products on their mobile phone for shopping in a retail setting. While out and about, 26% most often check reviews from their smartphone, and 18% check from their tablets.

5. Turning Out a New Generation of Smart Shoppers

Previous generations had no choice but to rely on top-down advertising messages when they needed to get "the scoop" on a new product. Today, consumers glean product insights straight from the source—consumers who have firsthand experience with those products.

And 70% of consumers consider themselves extremely/very discerning in deciding whether to trust a specific online review, and 94% say they can spot a trustworthy reviewer.

6. Sparking Confidence in Brand Purchases

All too often, consumers may be eager to try out a new brand but hesitate out of fear it won't fit into their lifestyle, meet their needs, or solve a particular challenge. However, with an e-commerce review, consumers can see—through first-person experience and perspective—how someone else viewed a potential purchase. Did the product perform the way the consumer expected? Was the fit true to size?

Today, when making a purchase of an unfamiliar brand, 88% of consumers find online reviews influential. But what about brands consumers have already experienced? Now, 67% of consumers also find e-commerce reviews influential—even when they make purchases from brands they currently buy.

7. Sharing Brand Experiences

With the prevalence of e-commerce reviews, we now see more and more consumers sharing their own brand insights and product experiences. To help fellow consumers get a better sense of what to expect when considering anything from a new pair of running shoes to the latest flat-screen TV model, creating an online review becomes a natural part of the consumer experience. In fact, 87% of consumers say they often/occasionally post online product reviews, and 82% say they post most often when they have positive experiences.

* * *

In just a short time, e-commerce reviews have had a profound impact on the consumer path to purchase. From generating consumer confidence to changing up shopping habits to sharing product insights, online reviews have forever changed the way consumers shop.

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image of Stacy DeBroff

Stacy DeBroff is founder and CEO of Influence Central. A social media strategist, attorney, author, and speaker, she consults with brands on consumer and social media trends. Reach her via stacy@influence-central.com.

LinkedIn: Stacy DeBroff

Twitter: @stacydebroff