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Purchase Paralysis: why 70 percent of Australians now check reviews when shopping online

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Purchase Paralysis: why 70 percent of Australians now check reviews when shopping online


Too much choice and cost of living pressures is inhibiting online purchase decisions. So, what can brands do to help consumers reckon with overwhelming choice and compete in a crowded landscape? Trustpilot’s Cameron Buckley shares his advice.

The customer online shopping journey starts with a search.

The customer then immediately enters an eCommerce world that is infinite and quite truthfully, overwhelming. Within a short space of time, the consumer, who is simply trying to find the right product or service, feels a burst of stress and the task quickly becomes monumental and time consuming. The sense of uncertainty and increased cognitive load becomes too much, so they instead make no choice at all – they are left paralysed and step off the purchasing pathway. This is what we call ‘purchase paralysis’.

As for businesses, online retail has never been a more crowded or competitive space, and for companies looking to emerge as market leaders, each would-be customer that falls off their purchase pathway (or ends up elsewhere) is a step away from success.

What is purchase paralysis?

The symptoms of ‘purchase paralysis’ vary between the afflicted; what might stop one consumer dead in their tracks might just result in an anxious purchase from another. 

Roughly, the symptoms fall into four categories: 

Uncertainty: Do I trust this product? Do I trust the reviews? What if it’s cheaper elsewhere? What if I do buy it and then see something much better moments later? Uncertainty is a product of having too much choice. It not only leads people to struggle to make a final purchasing decision, but also to doubt the choices that they do make. 

Increased cognitive burden: Information overload can fill people to a bursting point. They’ve got to consider a handful of criteria (e.g. price, features and popularity) across thousands of products, all packaged and marketed with a cacophony of features, messaging and promises – and end up with “the right choice”. It’s no wonder increased cognitive burden makes consumers feel like giving up. 

Pre-emptive discouragement: Shopping is supposed to be an enjoyable experience but for many, there is a sense of discouragement to the process, which often manifests as anticipated regret. Anticipated regret is the feeling that you’re going to regret purchasing something before you even hit the checkout – and it’s exacerbated by choice paralysis. 

An empty shopping cart: The final symptom of purchase paralysis shows up on the earnings sheet. 

Cart abandonment, or an empty cart, is often the result of customers feeling overwhelmed by choice and feeling uncertain about their purchase. When people navigate their options, one of the main aspects that can steer them towards a purchase is reviews. By collecting and showcasing reviews, this gives customers the confidence to purchase as they can rely on the wisdom of the crowd. 

So if you’re a business, what can you do about purchase paralysis and how do you help steer consumers in the right (or your!) direction? The antidote, put simply, is trust.  Marketers need to create a confident and reassuring buying experience for consumers by leveraging trust.

Trust is the central, core tenet to everything businesses should aim to embody. It’s deeply involved in the consumer shopping experience in so many ways, from trusting promotional information, to the quality of the goods, to the level of customer support, all the way to customer aftercare. 

And when companies leverage trust in the right way, it unlocks an entirely new purchase path: The trust-powered purchase journey. 

The trust-powered purchase journey is an alternate buying path that revolves around a singular element: trusted, independent reviews. 

We know that 70 percent of Australian consumers read reviews before making a purchasing decision, but without a system of reviews that can be trusted, the entire cycle and trust-powered pathway crumble away. It wasn’t always like this; but as the opportunities to sell online have grown, so have the sophistication of those looking to make a quick dollar. Fake reviews, non-existent logistics and even entire phantom businesses have emphasised the importance of trust to consumers. 

The easiest way to ensure that reviews are trustworthy is to look for a third party platform that acts as an aggregator of real experiences – both positive and negative. 

And the ‘negative’ reviews are just as important as the positive. Companies need to encourage and value all customer reviews. Not just the 5-star ones. All reviews are good reviews. It’s how you manage and use them that can be deemed positive or negative. 

The case for 2, 3 and 4-star reviews

The phrase “good review” typically makes you think of a positive review, but a good review is really just any review that gives helpful feedback to both businesses and fellow shoppers.

Customers dig deeper nowadays, they’re savvy shoppers and often suspicious of companies that have a consistent record of solid 5-star reviews. Can anyone really be that perfect? Doesn’t exactly fill me with trust. 

As consumers, we want to know the pros and cons, the worst- and best-case scenarios, and then weigh things up and make our own decisions based on trusted feedback.

In fact, Trustpilot research found that 53 percent of consumers selected a mix of positive and negative reviews as their top prompt to purchase. In the same survey we found that when it comes to 5-star reviews, 56 percent of consumers will consider the product or service, but do more research before committing, while only 21 percent will see that review and believe it’s a “must buy”. Finally, 16 percent will immediately suspect that the review is fake. This is why it’s so important to leave reviews of your 2, 3, and 4-star experience.

So if your company is sitting around a 4.3 star rating, please consider that this is probably a more trustworthy and ‘positive’ rating than a so-called perfect five stars Two, 3 and 4-star ratings are good and necessary but also be sure to respond to them in an authentic and valuable way. Show consumers that you’ve taken the feedback on board and respond in a way that is useful for the customer who left the review, but also for the many potential customers that read it.

For businesses, by embracing transparent reviewing practices and taking the time to respond to all feedback, the sky is really the limit.


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