According to Mintel flagship report American Lifestyles 2015, a comprehensive look at American consumerism, Americans not only use the internet to stay connected to work, family and friends, but 69 percent seek out 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. 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 collective intelligence of online review sites and social media has allowed consumers to get a second opinion and validate their choices. Others are using their networks as a starting point in their buying process for bigger ticket items or in areas for which they lack expertise. For example, 63 percent of technology review seekers use independent review sites and 61 percent of vacation destinations review seekers consult user review sites.

As Americans seek input from others before buying and offer their own opinions to online communities, the buying process is less individualized, and purchases may ultimately reflect collective input from a variety of sources. In this way, the connected collective may have a stronger influence than individual preference. “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,” said 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.”

For many Americans, the internet has become a lifeline. When faced with a difficult question, or product choice, the internet is often the first place many Americans turn to for research and opinions. The majority of respondents (69 percent), including 81 percent of 18-34 year-olds, seek out opinions from others before purchasing. Online user review sites are the most popular resource for opinion-seekers in this age range while seekers aged 35+ are more likely to put their trust in independent review sites. However, social media contact recommendations hold weight for many demographics, including 72 percent of opinion-seekers age 25-34 and nearly half of those age 45-54 (46 percent). Consumers view online review content with some skepticism, however, as only 59 percent trust recommendations if there are a large number of reviews and 57 percent are suspicious of products with only positive reviews.

Although online reviews can be influential, personal recommendations from friends and family still trump reviews from unknown contacts. Over half of respondents (54 percent) agree that they would try a product with negative online reviews, if recommended by someone they know, though consumers remain skeptical of those that look too good to be true. 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.