Tricia Holly Davis – Statistics shed light on human behaviour

Mark Twain had it right when he penned the now infamous phrase “Lies, damn lies and statistics” to describe how data is often abused to alter public perception for the good of the few.


It’s no secret that companies will manipulate statistics in an effort to disguise poor performance, conceal spurious behaviour (eg Enron), or convince consumers their products are good for them when they’re actually bad (tobacco firms). Governments, too, are guilty of figure-twisting to stir support for their political parties, disarm their critics, and further highly distasteful, self-serving agendas.


Of course, not all companies and governments are guilty of this, but the bad apples have helped to create a shroud of scepticism around statistics, so that people say phrases like “Take it with a grain of salt,” when talking about anything in percentages.


Journalists too are guilty of manipulating statistics to prop up what would otherwise be a non-story. But there are times when statistics serve the greater good, lending credibility to anecdotal evidence or challenging widely accepted notions on human behaviour, which can help people to understand more about the world in which they live, and business to better understand their existing and future customers.


Such is the case with the statistics to come out of the research in this edition. Even though I am biased, these statistics tell a worthwhile story, and, at the very least, raise important questions about what companies ought to be considering in terms of a website’s design, content and overall appeal. Are you targeting the young, the retired, everyone? Is it possible to capture the loyalty of an entire generation? 


Among the most interesting findings, for instance, is that nearly half (46%) of those aged 55+ are influenced by user reviews, and that old age pensioners appear to be more adept on the web than their kids and grandkids.


Silver Surfers spend nearly half as much time than younger people to book a holiday online, with 23% booking a trip in less than two hours, compared with 13% of 16-to-24-year-olds.


After reading more about the findings of our research, I hope you too will conclude that this is, in fact, one of those times when statistics are actually a good thing. You may take them with a grain of salt, but, hopefully, it will also make you think about the future of your business.


Tricia Holly Davis is chief writer for Travolution

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