The complexity and purchase cycle of a product or service are key indicators of the value consumers place on Internet search engines, blogs, social networks and traditional media when making purchase decisions, according to research commissioned the Lumin Collaborative, a joint venture of leading independent public relations firms.
The survey, conducted by Fabrizio, MacLaughlin & Associates, was designed to reveal the impact on consumer decision-making of traditional media, “word of mouth” and the Internet. The study also measured similarities and differences in consumer decision-making by three significant age groups: “Echo Boomers” (aged 18 to 31), “Gen Xers” (aged 32 to 41) and “Baby Boomers” (aged 42 to 62). 

Among all respondents, key findings included:
• Food and beverage items are the least likely to prompt Internet searches, and more likely to use traditional media and word of mouth;
• Consumer technology products are most likely to prompt Internet searches, with the possible exception of telecommunications products and services;
• Price and complexity of the product seems to dictate the decision-making process -   the higher the price and the more complex the product, the more likely that Internet resources will be used to make decisions;
• When searching online for product/service information, corporate sites, search engines, product reviews and user feedback matter most;
• Although use of social networks or blogs is on the rise, they are a far less important resource for consumers looking to make a purchase; and
• Buyers spend the most time researching consumer technology products – and the least time looking at food and beverage products.

“This survey offers us insight into how consumers – across a broad spectrum of ages – are using traditional media, the Internet and social networks to make decisions,” explained Mark Raper, founder and chairman of The Lumin Collaborative and CEO of member firm CRT/tanaka.

The survey focused on four primary product/service categories:  financial products and services, healthcare products and services, consumer technology products, and health and beauty products.

According to Raper, Lumin’s survey also determined a correlation between the level of technical information needed and reliance on the Internet as the source of the information, meaning that more technical products like prescription medications and LCD TVs are likely to prompt online searches. Moreover, absent “word of mouth” recommendations, the Internet generally is the main information source for products or companies.

Among the age groups studied, Echo Boomers are more reliant on the Internet as their primary information source. Alternatively, Baby Boomers place greater value on “word of mouth” and traditional media. “Word of mouth” doesn’t suffer among Echo Boomers relative to the Internet; it is traditional media sources, particularly print media, that suffer.

“It’s not surprising that for younger generations the Internet is the preferred source to gather information and research products/services,” says Raper. “What is valuable is the fact that despite the rise of electronic media, “word of mouth” remains a powerful influence across all age groups. Moreover, our study shows that blogs have little impact in the actual consumer decision-making process, which counters popular sentiment.”