IBM has conducted research that shows how consumer behaviour is radically changing in a world increasingly dominated by online and social media.

 Polling opinions from over 2,000 individuals across the UK, the research shows that – despite living in an age of information overload – consumers are becoming more analytical in the way they make decisions, developing formidable filtering and comparison skills in order to rapidly make judgements in all areas of their lives.

 The research shows that:


•                 62% of consumers think the internet and social media has made decision-making easier than five years ago

•                 Broadcast media is (TV & radio) is on average five times less influential on decision-making than online sources

•                 Young adults (18 -24) are twice as likely to use social media to research purchases as the 35+ age bracket

•                 Consumers now value online ‘crowd-sourced’ word-of-mouth – such as opinions on review sites – as much as the opinions of friends and family

•                 Spelling and grammar have a significant influence on whether opinions are trusted or not – particularly among young adults



When browsing across social media, forums and review sites, consumers are increasingly applying cross-checking and filtering processes as a matter of course. Just as public and private sector organisations have recognised the value of ‘Big Data’ as a way of understanding their customers better, consumers are learning to analyse multiple sources of information to make more informed decisions.

 The next generation of consumers is set to be even more analytical, as they increasingly use online sources to aid decision making. For example, 18-24 year olds are twice as likely to use social media to research purchases as the 35+ age bracket. Young consumers also rated the influence of social media more highly than all other age groups when making everyday decisions.

 The research gives an insight into how being more analytical is affecting all aspects of our decision-making. As well as advice from friends and family and Ofsted reports, almost a third of parents consult parenting websites before choosing schools for their child. Again, the new generation of analytical consumers is more likely to use online data sources to make decisions, with 39% of 25-34 year olds saying that they would visit a site such as Mumsnet before choosing a school.


However, despite the growing influence of user-generated opinions online, the analytical consumer is still quite traditional in the way they judge the worth of these opinions. The research shows that over a third of consumers (35%) say that good spelling and grammar is an important factor when weighing up the value of user reviews. Perhaps most surprising is that 40% of 18-24 year olds are influenced by poor spelling and grammar, higher than the average across age groups.

 And for those companies that think a sophisticated website with cool graphics is the way to the analytical consumer’s heart, here’s a wake-up call: ease of access still wins out over style (58% compared with 24%).

 “This research shows that, rather than struggling to deal with information overload, modern consumers are proactively using the abundance of data sources available to them to be more savvy about the decisions they make,” commented Vivian Braun, consumer analytics expert at IBM. “In particular, the upcoming generation of consumers are very comfortable with jumping between multiple sites and forums, polling opinion and cross-referencing information to research everything from their latest music download to their next job.”

 “If businesses want to develop personal relationships with their target audiences – and they absolutely should do – then they need to understand what’s influencing their decision-making,” continued Braun. “To do this, the use of tools such as social media analytics – which enable companies to derive real-time insights into consumer preferences and drivers of behaviour – will inevitably become more widespread. Ultimately, as consumers get more analytical, so must the companies and organisations they interact with.”


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