At a time when 89 percent of consumers say they find online channels trustworthy sources for product and service reviews, new Cone research reveals four-out-of-five consumers have changed their minds about a recommended purchase based solely on negative information they found online. That is up from just 67 percent of consumers who said the same in 2010, according to the 2011 Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker.

Positive information has a similar effect on decision making, with 87 percent of consumers agreeing a favorable review has confirmed their decision to purchase. But, negative information is gaining traction and is now just as powerful in tipping the scales against a recommended purchase.

Data from the survey underscore the growing power of online reviews to lead consumers to the cash register or, conversely, drive them away. As compared to one year ago, consumers are more likely to open their wallets when they can find online recommendations to support offline advice (85 percent versus 77 percent).

“The increasing impact of online content on buying decisions cannot be ignored,” says Bill Fleishman, president, Cone. “Today’s marketers, no matter the product or service, must learn how to sway the conversation by connecting with those who have significant influence over their peers and will champion the brand message.”

Survey data suggest this year-over-year increase in online verification may be attributed to near-universal access to the Internet and the pervasiveness of the smartphone. Today, online product or service information is literally at consumers’ fingertips with nearly three-out-of-five (59 percent) reporting that they are more likely to research recommended products online because they can easily access applications on their mobile phones, and 81 percent crediting wide-spread access to the Internet.

The increase in online purchase verification may also be attributed to careful spending. Americans are nearly 25 percent more likely to verify recommendations for high-cost purchases, such as cars, today than they were in 2010 (89 percent today vs. 72 percent), while moderate- and low-cost purchases did not experience the same jump.

“Today’s consumers want reassurance before loosening their purse strings, and personal recommendations alone are just not enough to guarantee a purchase,” says Mike Hollywood, director of new media, Cone. “The explosion of online word-of-mouth channels and the adoption of online verification have forever changed the marketing landscape. Targeting the right people is a marketer’s first step toward influencing the conversation.”

When logging on to learn more about a potential purchase, Americans are increasingly putting their trust in articles and blog posts. In fact, consumers are 50 percent more likely today than in 2010 to look to articles and blogs for recommendation verifications (42 percent in 2011 vs. 28 percent in 2010). Articles and blogs may still lag behind product information (69 percent) and consumer reviews (64 percent) as preferred sources of information, but they are growing in importance.

And this may continue because consumers say a trustworthy source is less about the channel and more about the author. Americans say the most trustworthy sources will have used the product or service before (69 percent) or be considered a credible expert in the space (60 percent). Reporters and bloggers who have gained recognition as subject-matter experts through product/service trial and error have the opportunity to draw consumers in with their informed recommendations.