Local Firms Can Ignore Online Reviews at Their Peril
It's no secret that online reviews play a key role in consumers' purchase decisions, but that's increasingly true for local brands as well, according to a report published Tuesday by BrightLocal.
More and more, consumers are using the Internet to find local businesses, according to the company's Local Consumer Review Survey 2013. In fact, only 5 percent of the consumers responding had not used the Internet to find a local business in the last 12 months, it found, down from 15 percent in 2012.
A full 37 percent of consumers use the Internet to find a local business at least once a month, meanwhile, compared with just 34 percent in 2012.
'Why Would You Not?'
"More consumers are consulting reviews as a logical step in their pre-purchase research of local business services," BrightLocal explained. "The increasing supply of reviews on all types of business make is easy for us (as consumers) to validate our selection of a local business before we contact them and to learn from the experiences of other consumers.
"It begs the question: why would you NOT check out a business's reviews before choosing to use them?" the company added.
The survey is a comprehensive look at how consumers of local services use and rely on online reviews and how -- or whether -- their behavior is influenced by what they have read. Conducted over six weeks in January and February, it received 2,100 responses.
A New Part of the Buying Process
The shift from "never using the Internet" to even occasionally tapping it to find a local business is bigger than most people might realize, BrightLocal noted.
"These consumers are getting a taste of how easy and helpful it is to find local businesses online, and we can expect them to become more regular users as long as they find the experience a positive one," the report pointed out.
Another significant finding -- and perhaps the crux of the survey from retailers' perspective -- is the number of people who read online customer reviews to determine whether a local business is one that they would want to patronize.
A full 85 percent of consumers said that they read online reviews for local businesses, up from 76 percent in 2012.
In many ways, reading reviews have become part of the buying process, BrighLocal suggests.
"By the time a consumer has started reading reviews, they have identified an issue/need they have, worked out what service or product satisfies this need and now want to select a business to use," the company explained.
Because the path from reading online reviews to purchasing from a business is a short one, it's crucial for local businesses to have a positive online reputation, the survey noted.
A Legal Matter
Such advice is only common sense, David Johnson, principal of Strategic Vision, told CRM Buyer.
"Online reviews are definitely now part of the buying process for many products, especially electronics and definitely restaurants," Johnson agreed. For some consumers, he added, they have morphed into "look at what I bought" or "look at where I ate" testimonials, to the great delight of merchants.
Indeed, online reviews are seen as so important to some merchants that often they will go to great lengths to have a negative review taken down or at least altered.
For instance, he noted, "there have been many laws suits about Yelp reviews for that reason."