Face-to-Face Still Tops for Purchase Decisions

July 10, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Automotive | Brand Metrics | CPG & FMCG | Email | Social Media | Youth & Gen X

Neutral, informal communication on behalf of a preferred brand or vendor can have significant and far-reaching impact on purchase decisions, and in-person word-of-mouth still carries more weight – among all adult age groups – than recommendations via social networking, according to (pdf) a recent Harris Poll.

The survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive, found that when it comes to getting information to help them with purchase decisions, American adults of all ages use a mixture of traditional media and new media, including those that would constitute “push” (advertising and websites) and “pull” (information from neutral, informal communication).

Most Popular Info-Gathering Methods

The most frequently identified methods of gathering information to make purchase decisions are using a company website (36%), face-to-face communication with a salesperson or other company representative (22%), and face-to-face communication with a person not associated with the company (21%).


Only 4% of respondents reporte using social networking sites to gather purchase-decision information, the study found.

Differences in Sources Among Age Groups

Though pop culture often portrays younger adults as “text-crazed” and less interested in face-to-face discourse than older adults, according to Harris, the survey found that one-third of 18-24 year-olds (33%) say they obtain information through in-person communication with family members or friends, compared with 21% of all adults who say the same thing.

Harris did find, however, that 18-24-year-olds are more likely to use public online social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace (16%). These youngest adults are also significantly less likely than older adults to use online chat or email directly with companies (2%).

Memorable Brand Experiences Generate More Positive Action

The poll then asked adults who had a memorable product purchase, product use, or service experience if they had taken any type of downstream action as a result – and nearly four in five said they had (79%). Notably, 72% say they took positive action, with 57% communicating about their positive experience with others and 41% specifically recommending that someone make a purchase.

Respondents with negative memorable experiences appear to go in greater numbers to the vendor or supplier. Some 41% of purchasers who took action say they communicated directly to the vendor or supplier. Of this group, 68% were looking for some type of issue resolution and more than half (53%) say they had their issue resolved in a positive manner while 13%, still had unresolved issues.

Demographically, Baby Boomers and Matures are more likely to communicate directly with vendors (48% and 57%) while Echo Boomers and Gen Xers are less likely to do so (28% and 35%).

Industry Differerences in Communication/Recommendation

Harris Interactive also discovered definite differences in downstream communications and product recommendation, depending on the industry from which respondents purchase:

  • Those who purchase in the automotive space are more likely to communicate with the vendor (43%) and have positive communication (46%).
  • Those who purchase in the healthcare space and entertainment space are more likely to have positive communications afterward (45% and 43% respectively).
  • Those who purchase technology products (44%) and entertainment products (42%) are more more likely to make a product recommendation.

Interestingly, Harris said that in most industries – but especially automotive and healthcare services – there is greater downstream likelihood that consumers are conveying positive messages than positively recommending.

Communications Used After Purchase

Of those who had communicated to others after their purchase, almost three in five (59%) communicated with someone not directly associated with the company, such as a customer service or tech support representative.

Methods reportedly used for communication:


Meanwhile, less than one in 10 used a public online social networking site, such as Facebook, for this communication (9%), an online message board, discussion forum, chat room, blog or wiki (8%), an independent website that has reviews (7%) or a private online social networking site (5%), Harris said.

Downstream Behavior and Further Purchase Likelihood

Overall, two in five (40%) of those with a memorable purchase experience say they would definitely be more likely to purchase again based on their own experiences. Of those who communicated about their positive product or service experience to others, more than three-fourths (76%) say they were more likely to repurchase, with only 5% saying they would be less likely to purchase. Among those who had made a positive recommendation, 79% would be more likely to repurchase in the future, compared with only 6% who would be less likely, the survey found.

Looking at those who had more negative experiences, 46% of those who communicated about their negative experience would be less likely to purchase, while about one-fourth (24%) would still be likely to repurchase, Harris said.

Among those who had recommended against purchasing a product, 63% would be less likely to repurchase compared with 24% who would be more likely to repurchase.

Harris concluded that this research provides three key takeaways:

  1. Methods of obtaining information and post-experience communication is much more likely to occur through a mix of traditional and new-age consumer generated (social) media, both offline and online. Further, few are using social networking tools.
  2. Communication to others about a product or service experience is more likely to occur than recommendation, and there is much variability by product/service category. Also, most post-experience communication takes place offline.
  3. Data suggest that the action of offline and online methods of communicating directly to others about experiences – except for message boards, blogs, and wikis – equally impacts, or at least generally correlates with, customers’ own future purchase behavior. These findings also suggest that the act of communicating to others, positively or negatively, has the same impact on customers’ own behavior as the act of actually recommending.

Despite recent hype about the significant influence of social media, these Harris Poll findings appear to echo several recent? studies that indicate that social networks are only beginning to have significant impact on purchases.? Earlier this year, Mintel also reported that real-life WOM beats online by a wide margin, while a study by WorkPlace Media? found that brands’ official presences on social networks make up only a fraction of a consumers overall view of those brands.

About the poll: This Harris Poll was conducted online within the US from March 9-16, 2009, among 2,355 adults (ages 18 and over) who agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population

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