A couple years ago, I was in the market for a AUX cord for my new car. I had just discovered podcasts and the joys of the Fergie station on Pandora and my new car came with this amazing port that allowed me to use the radio as a speaker. Life. Changing.
All I needed was the cord. Except, I had no idea what the prices were for cords like that, or how to tell if I was getting ripped off. So, I went to Best Buy to check out the selection. And, I did what shoppers have done for decades — flagged down an associate and asked his opinion.
“Hey there, is this is a good AUX cord to get?”
“Yeah. That’s a good choice.”
“Are you sure? Is the price decent? It’s $17.99. Is that a good deal?”
“Yeah. That’s a good price.”
So I threw it in my cart. But before I hit the checkout, I did one more thing — I asked the Internet the same questions. I took out my smartphone, pulled up an app called RedLaser, scanned the barcode and bam! Just like that I was able to see how much the same exact item cost at nearby stores, and see if other people had been happy with their purchase.
The crazy part though? The app actually told me that the same exact item was available on BestBuy.com for $7.99. That’s TEN DOLLARS LESS! So, I took the cord and my phone up to the cashier, showed her the BestBuy.com listing and asked for the same price. And she gave it to me.
And that’s the story of how I got completely hooked on using the internet for every aspect of my shopping experience. These days, I won’t even buy a lipstick without first watching multiple reviews on YouTube, checking out beauty blogs, and asking friends online what they think about it.
It turns out, I’m not alone. A new Mintel flagship report American Lifestyles 2015, a comprehensive look at American consumerism, shows that 69 percent of Americans look to the internet for advice and opinions on goods and services before purchasing.
“Of those who seek out advice, shoppers are equally likely to visit user review sites or independent review sites before making a purchase (70 percent), while 57 percent use social media networks for recommendations,” the report says. “In addition to sharing photos and commenting on a status, people are looking for answers – and providing opinions – on everything from where to eat dinner and which auto dealership gives the best service, to how to score a discount at a local retailer.”
The operative phrase being, “on everything,” because it’s not just people in the market for big ticket items like TVs and cars who are looking online for advice these days. It’s people at the local grocery store looking for reviews and coupons on potato chips and deodorant.
“Americans have what feels like an endless number of choices to make on a daily basis and even the simple act of buying staple household products can be overwhelming to those who have yet to build brand loyalties or those who prefer to try out the latest products,” explains Fiona O’Donnell, Lifestyles Category Manager at Mintel. “In a never-ending quest to buy the ‘best,’ consumers are looking to others, peers and strangers alike, to glean from their opinions and experiences in order to validate the choices they’ve made and to avoid feelings of buyer's remorse.”
In other words, it’s getting to the point where shoppers will pause before throwing that bag of Lancaster Butterscotch and Caramel Soft Cremes in their cart and check the internet to see if they really do taste like butterscotch and caramel.
And for those dismissing this whole trend as just one more millennial fad, think again.
“Unsurprisingly, online reviews are the most impactful for consumers age 25-34, likely the most tech-savvy age group. However, overall, data shows that the majority of respondents age 18-54 agree that online reviews help in their decision making process,” the report says.
For candy makers, at the core this trend means that for many consumers their first impression of your product is going to be about so much more than pretty packaging. If even one person in their online world has bought your lollipops, that alone could be enough to sway potential customers in either direction.
Personally, I hope this type of shopping will actually help smaller confectioners break into the business. The idea being that people will feel more comfortable trying something their friends have suggested.
As for retailers, this brave new “online shopping, while in the store” world means being honest with the customers. Because pretending that a high-margin item is actually insanely delicious just so you can make a sale isn’t going to work anymore. Every sale becomes a repeat-purchase decision — even (especially) the first-time purchase.
In the end, more information should be a good thing for shoppers and the confectionery industry alike. Because if all my friends tell me to try your new sugar-free-milk-chocolate, turkey-covered, cheddar cheese-infused, grape-jelly truffles, then, hey, who am I to argue with the internet?