Editorial Policy

Do You Let Online Reviews Tell you What to Buy?

Kristin McGrath

March 16, 2012

My friend and I were looking for a place to eat the other night, but our favorite restaurant was blocked by a solid wall of South by Southwest traffic and revelers. So, we had to find a restaurant closer to our neighborhood.
An hour after we had planned to leave, we were still reading online reviews and saying things like:
"People  on Yelp seem to like this place. But this person gave our favorite place five stars and this new place only three, so I’m not sure I’m sold."
"This person on Urban Spoon says the service is slow. But this person says it’s worth the wait."
"This review was obviously written by the owner."
We eventually found ourselves at a nearby restaurant that had won over the majority of the Yelp reviewers. And we used the half-hour wait for a table to read the reviews in greater detail on our smartphones so we knew which dishes to try.
So, basically, we had allowed strangers to tell us where to eat and what to eat once we got there.
This is apparently a common trait among my generation — the "millennials" (aka Generation Y ). A fascinating study from the Center for Generational Kinetics, Kelton Research and Bazaarvoice provides some insights into how millennials shop — and the overwhelming amount of research we’re willing to do before every purchase.
What defines millennials, according to the study, is that we’re accustomed to having unlimited information at our fingertips. So, whether we’re trying to decide where to eat or which brand of shampoo to use, we’re willing and eager to spend hours poring over user reviews before spending a dime.
According to the study, 84 percent of millennials said user-generated content plays a role in their purchasing decisions (compare that with 70 percent of baby boomers). And, while boomers are more likely to rely on recommendations from family and friends, 51 percent of millennials said they’re  more likely to rely on online reviews.
This presents a puzzle for businesses and marketers, who now have to attract (and keep the business of) a generation that has no brand loyalty, that is keenly aware of all the bad reviews a business has received, and that is more likely to listen to Yelp users than carefully crafted advertisements.
With savvy shopping in mind, here are some of the best personal finance blog posts of the week:
Consumerist launches its seventh annual "Worst Company in America"  tournament.
The Krazy Coupon Lady recommends saving on food by joining a co-op.
Free from Broke looks into the future of shopping with credit cards.
Cheapism gives some spring cleaning tips that involve cheap, natural cleaning products.
Stupid Cents offers some tips for saving money when dining out.
Inexpensively reveals five things to always buy on Amazon.