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Online consumers tend to buy products without a form factor and frequently rely on online reviews, according to [pdf] a new study from The Nielsen Company.

Books Most Popular Future Online Purchase
Data from “Global Trends in Online Shopping” indicates that globally, more consumers are planning to purchase books (44%) and clothing/accessories/shoes (36%) than any other category of product. Following these two categories are airline/ticket reservations (32%) and electronic equipment (27%).

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Although clearly form factor is a vital part of any clothing-related purchase, the other top categories stand out for including products, such as books and electronic equipment, which do not depend on physical characteristics to provide value. In addition, categories such as tickets and reservations are heavily represented in the top categories (including hotel reservations, 26% and event tickets, 20%).

Other electronic items such as videos, DVDs and games (18%)are also slated for online purchase by a relatively high percentage of global consumers. While some categories with a low percentage of consumers planning an online purchase also do not rely on physical characteristics (such as computer software, 11%), the bottom end of the chart includes form-reliant categories such as toys and dolls and sports memorabilia (this category may also include items that need their authenticity verified).

Opinions Count on Technical Items
When asked what items they would not buy without consulting online reviews, global consumers were most apt to select products that could broadly be considered “technical” in nature. The leading items, consumer electronics (40%), cars (38%), and software (28%) are all highly advanced, technical products which are only fully understood by experts. This description also applies to telecommunications services (22%). It is also worth noting that all these items, especially cars, are big-ticket items.

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However, not all big-ticket items inspire consumers to check online reviews. For example, relatively few consumers (18%) consult online opinions before purchasing airline tickets online, perhaps because in many cases only one or two airlines offer the needed flights and the decision relies more on non-technical factors, such as a carrier’s reputation for customer service and on-time departures/arrivals.

Online Mentions are Not Always Good
While companies are increasingly attempting to obtain viral publicity through online consumer comments and reviews, they should keep in mind that being mentioned online is not always positive. Globally, 41% of consumers say they are more likely to share a negative, rather than positive, product experience online. Broken down by region, this percentage is highest in Asia-Pacific (49%)and lowest in North America (32%).

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SocNet Reviews Most Influence Younger Adults
Reviews on social networks influence 45% of all online US adults and 50% of those aged 18-34, according to a recent Harris Poll. When asked how much reviews from friends or people they follow on social networking websites influence their decision to use or not use a particular company, brand or product, 45% of online adults said they have a great deal or fair amount of influence.

Broken down by age demographic, social network reviews are most influential on 18-to-34-year-olds (50%). This percentage drops with each advancing age group, hitting its lowest rate (37%) among adults 55 and older.

About the Data: The Nielsen Company conducted a survey in March 2010 and polled more than 27,000 internet users in 55 markets from Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America to look at how consumers shop online.

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