Before the Internet came along there were two main ways of finding suitable suppliers for things we wanted to buy. If we knew we wanted something but didn’t know who to get it from, the first thing we used to do was ask a friend or colleague. And if they couldn’t come up with the answer we had to thumb our way through Yellow Pages.

Then, the Internet arrived and we had a “third person” we could ask. Gradually, web sites replaced the Yellow Pages. Indeed, each year now we get two copies of Yellow Pages delivered (because we have two phone lines) and both of them sit in a corner gathering dust. I can’t remember the last time I looked inside Yellow Pages – can you?

For the past few years we have changed our habits. We have carried on asking friends and colleagues for advice on where to buy things, then heading off to the Internet if they can’t suggest a suitable place to go. But things are changing.

New research shows that over the past year we have been dumping our friends in favour of the Internet. Now, 58% of people go to the Internet FIRST to find suitable suppliers, only then asking their friends and colleagues if they can’t find what they want online.

In other words, the Internet has become the most important place for finding suitable suppliers, products and services for most people. It is our new best friend.

If you run an online business, or promote any products or services via a web site, this has important implications for you. It means you need to generate customer reviews, allow customers to contribute to your site to comment on your services and generally allow “user generated” pages to be created so that your web site visitors can see recommendations and reviews – that’s what they are looking for.

People are seeking from the Internet what they used to get from their friends and neighbours – honest, third-party, independent advice and suggestions. Your business now needs them to be online because that’s where bulk of your customers are looking.

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