Consumers find social content, such as friends' recommendations and consumer reviews, twice as important as traditional information sources such as recommendations from sales assistants or advertising when making a purchase, according to research by social commerce solutions provider Reevoo. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

The survey of the shopping habits of 1,000 UK consumers found that 52% rate friends' recommendations as influential, and 48% are influenced by consumer reviews online. Conversely only 24% and 22% respectively rated advertising and recommendations from sales assistants as significant to their purchase decisions.

A surprising 88% of those surveyed said they sometimes or always consult reviews when making a purchase, and 60% said they were more likely to purchase from a site that has customer reviews on.

Travel and automotive are the sectors that rely on user reviews the most heavily, with almost one third always reading reviews when booking travel and nearly 30% always reading reviews when choosing a car.

Financial services is another area where reviews are becoming increasingly important, with nearly 20% saying they always read online reviews when buying insurance and more than one in seven consumers stating they always read reviews before choosing a bank, mortgage or loan provider.

It is important to make sure social content such as users reviews appear across a variety of shopping channels, as multichannel shopping behaviour is here to stay, with nearly 80% of consumers using two or more channels to shop. Amongst the most popular channels with these consumers are mobile and social networks.

Reevoo found that that shopping and researching products via mobile has increased from 38% to 46% in a year in the UK. Using mobiles to shop and research whilst inside a shop is rising, so retailers and marketers should consider this connected shopping experience when planning a mobile shopping strategy.

Using Facebook as a shopping and research tool has increased by almost 40%, with a majority of users of the social network now researching purchases or seeking friends' advice on the site. Asking friends for product suggestions or checking out what they've bought and recommend has increased by around 50% in a year, while purchasing through Facebook has doubled.

Interestingly, the one social shopping channel that seems to be on the wane is group buying sites. Regular users have more than halved, compared to this time last year. Consumers are finding new and different ways of social shopping as the space diversifies.

However, a key element in the success of social shopping and reviews is trust. We found that two thirds (67%) of consumers have concerns about the trustworthiness of reviews. More people than ever suspect positive reviews might be paid for and bad reviews hidden. The rise of false reviews has been well documented in the media and consumers are becoming savvy to this tactic. In fact, Reevoo's research shows that shoppers consistently trust independently collected reviews more than twice as much as reviews collected by the business being reviewed.

According to Reevoo’s founder, Richard Anson, "This study revealed an increasing sophistication in consumers' use of multi-channel and social shopping tools. As well as the tools and technologies becoming more innovative, people's browsing and buying behaviour is also changing. Whereas when social commerce was in its infancy people were happy to take reviews at face value, now consumers are becoming more discerning about who they'll trust and which information sources they find most valuable for them."