Sure, you have an online presence; but is that presence considered trustworthy? This is the message uncovered from new research on the way in which consumers evaluate and ultimately select home remodelers. In the digital age, the connected consumer is king. The question becomes, how are you holding court in this process?

As part of an annual collaboration between the CFA (Consumer Federation of America), www.consumerfed.org, Washington, D.C., NACAA (National Assn. of Consumer Agency Administrators), Nashville, Tenn., and NACPI (North American Consumer Protection Investigators) www.nacpi.org, Washington, D.C., this research initiative helps to assess macro-level trends in consumer opinion throughout the United States. Results show throughout the past five years the remodeling industry has consistently ranked as one of the most problematic industries based on volume of consumer complaints.

The research takes a close look at the way in which consumers are finding reliable home improvement contractors, showing the evolution through the years, and how the digital age has made this process much more streamlined and efficient for the consumer. According to the research, given the breadth of Web directories, review sites, referral services, and social media options, consumers have at their disposal an unlimited array of options, which in the end has created a new dilemma of choice.

Therefore, the goal of the research was to gain a clearer understanding of how consumers navigate the media ecosystem when hiring a home improvement contractor, and establishing benchmarks that can be used to detect trends.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with a set of 20 homeowners, new light has been shed on the selection process. For example the initial research suggests consumers place varying levels of trust in the individual channels they used, which informed their ultimate hiring decision. Next, once they have assembled a pool of options, they typically engage in an evaluation process that involves the collection of more specific information from each of the candidates. This includes things like cost estimates and client references, as well as an evaluation of third-party sources, such as the local license board or Better Business Bureau. From there, they move on to making a final hiring decision.

Overall, some of the high-level trends uncovered by the research show that homeowners highly value “personal referrals” when discovering and evaluating contractors; highly dissatisfied consumers were more likely to use the Yellow Pages and Craigslist during the discovery phase; during the evaluation phase, client references, work samples, and license information played a significant role in shaping the final hiring decision; and highly satisfied consumers are more likely to compartmentalize the hiring process into distinct phases and more likely to prioritize different variables in each phase.

Perhaps most enlightening to the research were results around which channels consumers use for finding contractors. The digital age has certain influence over this behavior.
While the overwhelming majority still used a very “undigital” method–personal referral–online options like Angie’s List (16.7%) and ServiceMagic (10%) did not rank as high. However, perhaps as no surprise to many, Google (30%) was the option of choice instead of the Yellow Pages (18.6%) by an almost 2-to-1 ratio.

Some of the research in the digital discovery phases focused on establishing “usage” vs. “trust” in the process. There seemed to be a level of discrepancy between “usage” and “trust” associated with Angie’s List. According to the researchers, this is based partially off of the subscription-based nature of the service.

As the digital consumer continues to navigate their way through the landscape of the Web, builders and remodelers should spend considerable time not only establishing a presence on the Web, but more importantly, a level of “trust” on the Web. It could be a powerful weapon for winning new business in the digital age.