Consumers Cite Past Experience as the No. 1 Influencer When Buying

A Proven Brand Name Is a More Powerful Factor Than Price or Advertising

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LOS ANGELES ( -- It's time to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas: shopping. So how do consumers decide what to buy?

Consumers process a lot of information -- from media, families and friends, coupons and promotions, in-store presentations, personal experience and other influences -- before making their selections.

Photo: AP

With 'Black Friday' looming, just how do consumers make purchase decisions?
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In a survey by GfK Roper Consulting, 83% of adults cited past experience with a brand as the most important factor in their purchase decisions. Quality and price -- issues often promoted in advertising -- ranked second and third. Personal recommendations came in fourth, highlighting the importance of word of mouth.

'Consumer Reports' ratings
Another strong influence: ratings in Consumer Reports, cited by 15% of adults in the Roper survey. (The ad-free magazine scored as the "most trustworthy and objective" media outlet for information on consumer products in a 2005 American Demographics survey.)

Roper's findings came from its syndicated research based on in-person interviews in August and September with 2,000 adults.

Among influencers, there's no denying the role of advertising. Advertisers last year spent $2,355 per U.S. household as they bid for their slice of consumer spending, according to Advertising Age's analysis of ad data from Universal McCann's Robert J. Coen. The average household in 2005 spent $46,409 on goods and services, according to data released this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Advertisers and agencies are using ever-more-sophisticated research tools to find the optimal media mix, but ad spending as a share of the economy hasn't changed dramatically over time. Ad spending during the past five years averaged 2.24% of gross domestic product, not much different from 50 years ago (2.21% in 1955).

Does advertising work?
Advertisers believe in the power of advertising. But do consumers? It's a mixed bag. In Roper's recent survey, 48% of adults agreed that advertising helps them decide what products and brands to buy -- and 46% said advertising doesn't help. Six percent don't know.

Even if consumers are conflicted about advertising's ultimate influence, they do pay attention. Roper research shows the vast majority of adults find some or most traditional-media advertising to be useful and informative.

Media constantly ply advertisers with research demonstrating how a particular medium influences consumer purchases. The Magazine Publishers of America this month released a cross-media analysis with this not-so-startling conclusion: "Magazines produced the highest percentage-point increase in purchase intent."

Some of the most intriguing media research involves positive things media have to say about rivals. A report issued this month by the Newspaper Association of America, "Consumer Usage of Newspaper Advertising 2006," offers stark data on the power of the internet.

Newspapers vs. web
When consumers were asked in an NAA-commissioned phone survey what ad media had helped them plan shopping or make purchase decisions over the previous seven days, 53% cited newspapers, tops for any medium. Internet scored second at 27%. But NAA noted that among adults age 18-34, internet beat newspapers.

An earlier NAA study found that 75% of adults with internet access had used search engines during the previous 30 days to research products or services or shop on the internet; just 14% had used advertising or shopping information at their local papers' websites. These candid assessments lend credibility to NAA's broader research on the still-powerful influence of newspapers. But the findings also reflect the undeniable growing role of the internet in influencing consumer shopping.
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