Welcome to findings of the BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey 2013.
This survey is an annual exploration into how consumers consume (aka ‘read’) reviews and how their opinions and behaviour are affected by the reviews they read. The survey is specifically concerned with reviews & purchase of local business services and not wider product reviews. The latest customer review report is available to read here.
About the Local Consumer Review Survey 2013
This year’s survey has evolved from 2012. We have a tighter set of questions (14 in total) and focus on the North American market with 90% of respondents coming from the US and 10% from Canada. The survey was conducted over 6 weeks in January-February 2013 and we received 2,100 entries.
The findings of the 2013 survey provide further, unequivocal evidence of the growing influence which online reviews have on consumer attitudes and purchasing habits of local business services.
Consumer consumption of online reviews has grown and evolved from 2012, as it did from the 1st wave of this survey in late 2010/early 2011 (refereed to as 2011 for simplicity).
More consumers are consulting reviews as a logical step in their pre-purchase research of local business services. 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 our a business’s reviews before choosing to use them?
Trust in reviews is also on the up, enabling consumers for form opinions faster and act on those opinions. However the authenticity (or perceived authenticity) of reviews is becoming a more significant factor as consumers become more accustomed to reviews.
Sections & Questions
Consumption of online reviews
- 1. How many times have you used the internet to find a local business?
- 2. Select the Business Types you have searched for via the internet?
- 3. Do you read online customer reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business?
- 4. Which of these business types have you read online customer reviews for?
Trust & influence
- 5. How many online reviews do you read before you feel that you can trust that business?
- 6. How do online customer reviews affect your opinion of a local business?
- 7. How do online customer reviews influence your decision to use/select a local business?
- 8. Do you trust online customer reviews as much as personal recommendations?
- 9. For which of these local business types does ‘Reputation’ matter the most when choosing a business?
- 10. Which of the following ‘Reputation Traits’ is most important to you when selecting a local business to use?
Incentive to recommend
- 11. In the last 12 months have you recommended a local business to people you know by any of the following methods?
- 12. Which of these factors would make you more likely to recommend a local business to people you know?
- 13. Would you be more likely to recommend a local business to people you know if they had a good value offer or discount?
- 14. Would you be more likely to promote a local business to people you know if you could benefit personally from doing so?
Consumption of online reviews
Qu 1. How many times have you used the internet to find a local business in the last 12 months?
This question sets the scene for the survey and identifies how regularly respondents use the internet to find local businesses. The frequency of usage is on the up (no surprise there) with infrequent users becoming more regular in their use of the web to locate their right local business to use.
- Just 5% of consumers had not used the internet to find a local business in the last 12 months ( down from 15% in 2012)
- 37% of consumers used internet to find local businesses at least one time per month (up from 34% in 2012)
The increase in usage at the bottom end of the chart (left hand side) provides the most significant development on this chart.
This move from never using or ‘1 off’ usage to repeat, occasional usage (2-5 times/year) represents a big behavioural shift. These consumers are getting a taste of how easy & 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!
Interestingly ‘highest frequency’ users (those using the internet more that 1 time per week to find local businesses) actually fell slightly from 2012. However this fall is not significant enough to draw any strong conclusions or trends from, and can most likely be attributed to changing make-up of our consumer panel rather than a change in global user behaviour.
Qu 2. Select the Business Types you have searched for via the internet in the last 12 months
Lifestyle businesses attract the most searches by consumers. Most popular categories of business are:
- Restaurants – 67% of consumers searched for restaurants (up from 57% in 2012)
- Doctor / Dentists – 35% (up from 27%)
- General Shop – 35% (35% in 2013)
- Hotel/B&B/Guest House – 30% (down from 35%)
- Clothes Shop – 28% (down from 34%)
‘Doctors/Dentists’ is the obvious outlier in the top 5. The other business types are frequented more regularly, with consumers visiting multiple different restaurants and shops within a year for example.
Obviously it’s important to select the right doctor/dentist – the consequences are very high if you don’t! However, how often does a typical person visit the doctor or dentist and does that require locating a new dentist each time or looking up their driving directions? – surely not?!
Qu 3. Do you read online customer reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business?
- 85% of consumers say that they read online reviews for local businesses (up from 76% in 2012)
- Only 15% of consumers say that they don’t read online reviews
We (as consumers( are growing more & more accustomed to consulting reviews, and the availability of reviews for different types of businesses makes it easy. Reading reviews is a logical step in the purchasing cycle which is why 85% of consumers did just this in the last 12 months.
It’s important to remember at which point in the buying cycle reviews come into play:
- 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.
- So the path from reading online reviews to purchasing from a business is short which means it’s crucial for local businesses to have a positive online reputation so they convert ‘searchers’ to customers.
Qu 4.Which of these business types have you read online customer reviews for?
The findings on this chart show a clear, positive correlation between how many consumers search for a business online and how many read reviews for those businesses. (compare with chart 2 above)
Top 5 local business types by review consumption:
- Restaurants – 61% (up from 46%)
- Doctors/Dentists – 32% (up from 21%)
- Hotels/B&B/Guest House – 27% (up from 22%)
- General shop – 18% (up from 9%)
- Hair/Beauty Salon – 17% (up from 9%)
Consumers now read reviews for all different types of businesses. We are so accustomed to reading reviews for products & services these days that it’s become a logical step in our selection & qualification of a purchase. Reviews are so easy & free to find and read that why would you purchase any product or service without seeing what other consumers say about it?
Trust & influence
Qu 5. How many online reviews do you read before you feel that you can trust that business?
This question looks at how quickly consumers build an opinion of a business based on reviews and are they forming opinions faster now than in previous years.
- 67% of consumers read 6 reviews or less* (up from 52% in 2012)
- Less consumers reading more than 10 reviews – 22% vs 35% in 2012
*Statistic ignores those who answered ‘0’ reviews.
Qu 6. How do online customer reviews affect your opinion of a local business?
- 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more (up from 58% in 2012)
- Only 12% of consumers said they take NO notice of online reviews (down from 17% in 2012)
Qu 7. How do online customer reviews influence your decision to use/select a local business?
- 65% of consumers more likely to use a business which has positive online reviews (up from 52% in 2012)
- Just 24% of consumers said that they select a business based on other factors (down from 28%)
Positive reviews have a real, actual impact on purchasing decisions. From these last 2 charts we can see that reviews influence both attitude and actions and directly impact whether a costumer chooses to use one business over it’s competitors.
A business’s reputation is more public and more accessible than ever before. Consumers are able glean a lot from the experiences other customers have and can judge a business before they ever set foot in the door or pick up the phone to call them. How a business responds to public complaints and praise is of paramount importance. Businesses need to act swiftly & positively to show the listen and care about what their customers think about them. Businesses make mistakes; bad experiences happen. That’s life. But it’s how a business handles these issues which is what determines the type of business they are and gives consumers either concern or comfort about using them.
Qu 8. Do you trust online customer reviews as much as personal recommendations?
- 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (up from 72% in 2012)
- Only 21% said they do not trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
This is the major test for online reviews. Can they be taken as seriously as personal recommendations and carry the same weight with consumer. The findings of survey show that they can and that consumers out more trust in online reviews that ever before.
That said, consumers are also increasingly concerned with the authenticity of reviews. They need to feel a review is genuine before they put any weight in the content & sentiment of a review. It’s possible that consumers are more aware of review spam or are becoming more skeptical of online reviews – it will be very interesting to see how this trend develops in 2014. This could be an early warning sign for review businesses to step up their efforts to eradicate review spam from their sites/applications.
Qu 9. For which of these local business types does ‘Reputation’ matter the most when choosing a business? (select up to 3)
- Restaurant – 51% (up from 31%)
- Tradesmen – 33% (up from 23%)
- Garage/Car Dealer – 31% (up from 18%)
- Hotel/B&B/Guest House – 28% (up from 22%)
- Builder/Roofer – 27% (up from 19%)
The responses to this question confirm more that ever before that reputation matters! It also confirms that reputation is important for all types of businesses – not just lifestyle, medical services & professional services.
Reputation plays a key role in the purchase decision for most products or services. However it is particularly important where 1 or many of the following is true –
- The consumer knows little about the service they are buying so is at a disadvantage to the seller (e.g. vehicle garage)
- The cost of using the service is significant (e.g. accountant/lawyer)
- The cost or ‘down side’ of selecting a poor quality provider is significant (e.g. builder)
- Once the service is bought it can’t be easily undone or ‘un-purchased’ (e.g. dentist)
Qu 10.Which of the following ‘Reputation Traits’ is most important to you when selecting a local business to use? (select 3)
- 71% said that ‘Reliability’ was most important trait in a local business (up from 64% in 2012)
- 45% said that ‘Good Value’ is most important in (up from 44% in 2012)
- Less than 10% said that ‘Friendliness’, ‘Courtesy’ or ‘Localness’ were important traits
Similar to 2012 the survey finds that ‘harder’ traits such as ‘Reliability’ and ‘Expertise’ are more valued by consumers than ‘softer’ traits such as ‘Friendliness’, ‘Courtesy’.
Consumers want to know that the business they choose will provide a professional using will deliver on their promises and
SMBs can use this insight to better pitch their businesses at potential customers. If consumers value ‘reliability, good value & expertise’ then businesses need to emphasise these traits across all consumer touch points – PPC ads, email marketing, on-site content, Google+ profile, telephone calls etc…
This insight can also feed back into online reviews. If a business proactively engages their customers and requests them to write reviews then they can subtly guide their customers to focus on these points within their reviews. Customers will ultimately write the truth about their experiences but often they can be prompted to focus on certain aspects. Many consumers are not regular reviewers so receiving some guidance is actually helpful to them.
Incentive to Recommend
Qu 11. In the last 12 months have you recommended a local business to people you know by any of the following methods?
- 72% of consumers have recommended a business by Word of mouth (down from 78% in 2012)
- 37% of consumers have recommended a business on Facebook (up from 32%)
- Just 8% of consumers have recommend a business on an Online Directory (down from 11%)
It’s not surprising that Word of Mouth dominates, but it is interesting to see all social channels growing their share of recommendations. Local directories continue to struggle and justify their value to consumers and this plays out in the falling level of recommendation (review writing) amoung the consumers who responded to this survey.
Some directories/directory-type sites (e.g. Yelp, tripadvisor) continue to pull away from the masses of lower quality and less relevant directories. These sites put a lot more emphasis on the ‘reviewer’ rather than just the review content and have built up loyalty among their users which fuels their ongoing success while others around them struggle to establish & differentiate themselves and to remain relevant to local consumers.
Qu 12.Which of these factors would make you more likely to recommend a local business to people you know?
- 78% of consumers said that ‘Reliability’ & ‘Professionalism’ are most important when recommending a business
- 46% said that being ‘friendly’ & ‘welcoming’ was important
- Only 12% said they would recommend a business purely because they were asked to
Qu 13. Would you be more likely to recommend a local business to people you know if they had a good value offer or discount?
- 54% of consumers would definitely recommend a local business if they had a good offer or discount
- 84% would do it or consider doing so
Having a special offer/discount significantly increases the chances of a business being recommended. However having a good offer is not enough on it’s own, it’s needs to be underpinned by good service, good product etc for consumers to feel happy recommending it to their friends/contacts.
This won’t come as a surprise to conscientious business owners; but it provides strong evidence which supports for the use of special offers as a lead generation tool and for generating positive word of mouth.
Qu 14. Would you be more likely to promote a local business to people you know if you could benefit personally from doing so?
- 30% of consumers would recommending a local business if they benefited directly (down from 35% on 2012)
- 45% would consider recommending a business if they benefited directly (up from 40% in 2012)
Respondents in the 2013 survey appear to be less willing, certainly more hesitant, in promoting a business in return for personal gain. That said, 75% of consumers said that they would consider it or actually do it though which is a significant number.
The objective for SMBs is to identify these ‘promoters’ among their customers and play to their ‘machiavellian’ instincts. They need to identify what type & level of benefit would trigger recommendations and factor these into their business models as a marketing cost. Word of mouth is such a powerful and effective channel that even small incentives can act as a catalyst to maximise the returns from this channel.