Over the last decade, online reviews have been becoming an ever-more-common part of consumers’ purchasing decisions. But, with reviews now being a huge part of online search results, a poor star rating or the feedback of unhappy customers can be hard to miss.
The Local Consumer Review Survey provides an annual look into how consumers are using local business reviews – from the necessary star ratings, to how many reviews are needed, and how these impact the decisions of potential customers. The report highlights how 3 key age groups use and write online reviews – and how this has changed year-on-year.
2019: A Year in Review(s)
Online reviews for local businesses are rapidly becoming the norm for many consumers, but in 2019 we identified some very interesting trends.
In 2018, consumers aged 18-34 were leading the charge for reviews and consistently coming out on top in terms of their review-reading and activity. This year, this gap has narrowed, with this younger age group becoming less likely to search for local businesses online, and go on to read their reviews. But, all is not as it seems.
Across every age group, those that do read reviews are doing so far more regularly – with one-third of consumers searching for local businesses every single day. And, even more consumers told us they ‘always’ read online reviews – including a huge 93% of consumers aged 35-54. For the first time, we delved into how long consumers spend reading reviews (spoiler, it’s longer than you may think!)
Reviews can have a colossal impact on the behavior of local consumers, and it’s clear to see that a business’s online reputation strongly affects whether customers choose to use a company. Positive reviews make 91% of consumers more likely to use a business, while 82% will be put off by negative reviews. The average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a local business, so businesses with lower review counts or negative feedback within their top reviews risk losing a significant proportion of potential customers to competitors with better online reputations.
The report finds that trustworthiness is crucial to consumers – but how can this be the case when fake reviews are being spotted more than ever before? Consumers may be becoming a little more discerning when it comes to the authenticity of reviews – though we’d far rather they felt able to trust that reviews were accurate and legitimate.
And it’s not just reading reviews that’s on the up. Among the consumers that read reviews, 97% read businesses’ responses to reviews – making it more important than ever for local businesses to ensure they are monitoring their reputation across every review site, and responding quickly and professionally to any feedback.
The number of consumers writing reviews is growing, with two-thirds of consumers now having written reviews for local businesses, and the average reviewer writing 9 reviews in 2019. While consumers report being more likely to write a review for a positive experience than a negative one, businesses can still make a real difference by remembering to ask consumers to leave feedback on the sites that matter.
But, against the guidelines of many review sites, it seems like some local businesses aren’t playing fair. Among the 67% of consumers that have been asked to leave reviews, a worrying 24% had been asked to do so in return for a discount, gift, or cash. These shady tactics could provoke the wrath of some of the stricter review sites – and we’d strongly recommend anyone using such incentives to tread very carefully and play by the rules instead.
Read on to find out which review factors consumers really pay attention to – and the star ratings, number of reviews, and review recency local businesses really need.
- 2019: A Year in Review(s)
Local Business Review Habits
- How frequently do consumers search for local businesses online?
- How many consumers read online reviews for local businesses?
- Which devices are used to read reviews?
- Which business types do people read reviews for?
- What do consumers do after reading positive reviews?
- How long do consumers spend reading reviews before making a decision?
Trust and Influence in Online Reviews
- How do reviews influence consumers?
- Do consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations?
- When judging a local business on reviews, what do consumers pay attention to?
- How recent does an online review need to be to impact consumers’ decisions?
- What’s the minimum star rating a business must have for consumers to use them?
- How many reviews do consumers read before trusting a business?
- How many consumers read fake reviews in 2019?
Responding to Customer Reviews
- Do consumers read businesses’ responses to their customers’ reviews?
- How do reviews responses impact consumers?
Posting Online Reviews
- How many consumers write online reviews for local businesses?
- How many reviews did reviewers write for local businesses in 2019?
- How many consumers have been asked to write local business reviews?
- How common are responses to reviews?
- How do businesses ask customers for reviews?
Find Out More
Local Business Review Habits
How frequently do consumers search for local businesses online?
- 90% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year
- 33% of consumers look at local businesses online every day – up from 27% last year
- 75% of 18-55-year-olds search for businesses online each week – compared to 35% of people aged 55+
Since the very first Local Consumer Review Survey back in 2011, we’ve seen a steadily growing proportion of consumers looking online for local businesses. This year, 33% of consumers searched for local businesses every day, while 60% looked at least once a week, and 70% looked monthly.
There are a multitude of ways for consumers to find information about local businesses online, and with so much information now at your fingertips, there’s no wonder that consumers are making local searches more and more.
But, it’s important to consider how behavior differs among different segments of consumers. 75% of 18-34 and 35-54-year-olds search for a local business on a weekly basis, with the younger age group a little more likely to look every day. Over 55s are far less likely to search for nearby businesses regularly.
However, it’s not as simple as saying that younger consumers search for local businesses more than over 55s. In fact, consumers aged 18-34 are less likely to have made a local search in the past year – with 15% saying they’d never searched. Could this indicate that some younger consumers are interacting with businesses in a different way – perhaps opting for online-only businesses, or finding nearby businesses through recommendations, and discoveries on platforms such as Instagram or Facebook?
How many consumers read online reviews for local businesses?
- 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses
- A growing number of consumers ‘always’ read reviews for local businesses
- 52% of 18-54-year-olds ‘always’ read local business reviews, though 18-34s are less likely to read them than in 2018
Among this year’s cohort of respondents, 82% read online reviews for local businesses – a little down from 86% last year. It’s difficult to know if this is a quirk of the dataset, or whether this could be the beginning of a slowdown in review reading. We predict that online reviews will remain vital to local businesses and consumers alike – but we’ll continue to monitor this trend for next year’s report.
While review reading was a little less common in 2019, among those that do, it’s becoming notably more commonplace. 36% said they ‘always’ read online reviews, up from 27% in 2018.
Like with those searching online for local businesses, it’s actually within the 18-34 age group that the biggest difference is being felt. This year, 17% didn’t read reviews for local businesses at all, compared to just 5% last year. It’s interesting that so much could change among this diverse age group within just one year – and we’d love to hear your theories on the cause.
Among 35-54-year-olds, review reading has actually become far more common during the decision-making process. This year, 52% ‘always’ read reviews, compared to just 28% last year. This has led to a decline among those that ‘occasionally’ read reviews – dropping from 39% last year, to 21% in 2019. This growing demographic could unlock an abundance of new customers for highly-rated businesses.
Which devices are used to read reviews?
Top Devices for Reading Reviews
- PC or Mac
- Mobile internet browser
- Mobile app
Checking online reviews is not confined to just one device. Searching on desktop, via mobile browsers, and using tablets has remained pretty static over the last year – further demonstrating how review reading is becoming normal no matter your search process.
Back in 2017, 80% of consumers read reviews using computers. While proportions have dropped over the last few years, this seems to represent consumers accessing reviews in a different way, rather than avoiding them altogether.
In our recent Google Analytics for Local Businesses Study, we found that 36% of local businesses’ website traffic came from mobile sources. Local businesses should expect many of their potential customers to be searching on mobile devices, with industries such as restaurants and tourist attractions getting more consumers looking on mobile than more typically B2B services.
Top Industries for Online Reviews
- Grocery stores
- Clothing stores
- Hair and Beauty
- Pet services
- Car dealerships
It’s important to remember that local businesses consist of far more than just stores, restaurants, or bars. Less frequently used (but equally as local) industries such as accountants, funeral directors, and photographers all see consumers reading reviews.
In fact, from our long list of industries, there wasn’t one type of business that consumers among our respondents hadn’t read reviews for. Every type of local business should be ensuring they have a positive online reputation. Beyond the influence on consumers, reviews also have a significant impact on local search rankings, so these can have a far bigger impact than just on those who read them.
What do consumers do after reading positive reviews?
Consumers’ Next Steps After Reading Positive Reviews
- Visit the business’s website
- Search for more reviews
- Visit the business
- Continue searching for other businesses
- Contact the business
After reading a positive review, consumers are most likely to go on to visit local businesses’ websites. While this has declined compared to the 2018 report, local businesses’ websites remain a critical part of the journey for consumers.
In our Local Business Websites and Google My Business Comparison Report, we found that 92% of consumers look at businesses’ websites when deciding on a business, though just 22% do this every time they search.
For 27% of consumers, positive reviews are enough to lead them towards contacting a business – whether this is in-person, over the phone, or direct through another medium. Many consumers will have made their minds up about a provider long before ever getting in touch, so it’s vital that your reputation across review sites won’t put off any prospective customers.
How long do consumers spend reading reviews before making a decision?
- 93% of consumers spend more than a minute reading reviews
- The average consumer spends 13m45s reading reviews before making a decision
- Consumers aged 18-34 spend 33% more time reading reviews than the average person
For the first time, we asked consumers how long they spend reading reviews before making a decision. 93% of consumers spend longer than a minute reading reviews, with 43% taking longer than 10 minutes. A very cautious minority (10%) spend longer than 30 minutes.
The average consumer reported spending 13 minutes and 45 seconds reading reviews before making their minds up. Consumers aged over 55 take almost 10 minutes reading reviews, while 18-34-year-olds spend nearly double this.
We were impressed at how long some consumers spend researching local businesses, but really, this isn’t a very long time to impress, so it’s important that they like what they read! Whether consumers are reading reviews in-depth or skimming for keywords, consumers can get through a lot of information in this time. This means a business’s online reputation management strategy should be far more robust than ensuring the top review is positive towards your brand.
Interestingly, 20% of people aged 18-34 spend longer than 30 minutes reading reviews. For consumers aged 35-54, this is 10%, and 3% of those aged 55+. While younger consumers may be a little less likely to read reviews, those that do are far more discerning – relying on plenty of reviews before choosing a business. While every local business should be ensuring they have a steady stream of positive reviews, if you have a significant proportion of customers in this demographic, you may have to be even more mindful of your reputation.
Trust and Influence in Online Reviews
How do reviews influence consumers?
91% of consumers say that positive reviews make them more likely to use a business.
The notion of what makes a review positive is subjective, as some consumers may see different star ratings as positive or not. They may instead be swayed by the sentiment of the review to decide whether they think it’s positive or not.
To be in with a chance of accessing this majority, businesses should ensure the reviews they are getting are broadly positive. Of course, this doesn’t mean they should only be targeting happy customers, or falsifying reviews so as to appear better than they are. Instead, they should be listening to the feedback given by customers and using this to build a better business.
Likewise, bad feedback has a strong impact on whether a customer chooses your business – with 82% of consumers less likely to use a business after seeing negative reviews.
But, with research finding that 39% of local businesses have a star rating of less than 4 stars on Google, many businesses could be putting off a significant chunk of potential customers.
Of course, negative reviews can happen to anyone. But, how you deal with them can help consumers understand what your business stands for, and what they should expect by choosing you. While you may receive a poor review for a customer that doesn’t like your service, always stay polite, and respond quickly to provide further details and a clear solution to anyone who may be reading. A bad review doesn’t need to be a disaster.
Do consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations?
- 76% trust online reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends
- 89% of 35-54-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 18-34-year-olds are less likely to trust reviews as much as recommendations than they were in 2018
A stalwart of the Local Consumer Review Survey, we asked consumers to what extent they trust online reviews when compared to recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues.
76% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations – a slight slip from last year’s 78%.
89% of consumers aged 35-54 trust reviews as much as online recommendations. Among 18-34-year-olds, 81% reported trusting reviews, down from 89% last year. Consumers aged 55+ were the least likely to be trusting of online reviews – with 39% saying they didn’t trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Online reviews are undoubtedly a critical tool, but with the growth of recommendations on Facebook, as well as the growth of Nextdoor, and the normality of influencer recommendations, online reviews could be losing their place on the pedestal.
When judging a local business on reviews, what do consumers pay attention to?
Most important factors in reviews
- How recent reviews are
- The business’s overall star rating
- How many reviews a business has
- How legitimate reviews appear to me
- The sentiment of the existing reviews
This question has evolved a little from previous years, allowing respondents to choose all of the factors that were important to them (previously just two), including the new options of legitimacy and the presence of photos. We made this change as we know that multiple factors affect customers’ decisions.
In last year’s report, star rating came out on top, followed by the number of reviews. This year, recency overtook these to become the factor of choice for consumers. It’s no longer enough to get a few reviews to get you to a 5-star rating, then stop. Ongoing reputation management is necessary to continue getting reviews to impress consumers and assure them that the experience they read about is still valid.
This year’s addition of photos in reviews felt needed due to the prominence of these across review sites. Reviewers on Google are encouraged to supply photos within reviews – receiving an additional 5 Local Guide points for adding a review, compared to just 1 point for adding a no text review. For many industries, the inclusion of photos can be incredibly important to understanding a business – whether that’s ‘before and after’ shots for a tradesman, photos of meals for restaurants, or supplying samples of your work for photographers. In fact, our recent research into Google My Business found that businesses with higher numbers of photos tend to receive more clicks, calls, and direction requests.
How recent does an online review need to be to impact consumers’ decisions?
- 48% of consumers only pay attention to reviews written within the past 2 weeks
- 84% believe that reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant
- 61% of consumers aged 18-34 are only impacted by reviews within 2 weeks
Of course, while we know that recency is important to consumers, this can mean lots of different things to different people.
Now, 48% of consumers are only impacted by reviews from the last 2 weeks, up from 40% last year, and 18% in 2017. For 18-34-year-olds, this was 61%, and 60% of 35-54-year-olds. It is far less important for over 55s to see very up-to-date reviews – though 76% still expect these to be from the last 3 months.
84% of consumers believe that online reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant. In fact, only 3% of consumers are influenced by reviews that are older than a year.
What’s the minimum star rating a business must have for consumers to use them?
- Businesses without 5 stars risk losing 12% of their customers
- Only 53% of people would consider using a business with less than 4 stars
- Consumers aged 55+ are least likely to forgive a low star rating
Star rating remains a critical way to impress potential customers. It’s highly likely that some customers will only look at an average star rating when making their mind up about a business – especially when seeing these in local pack results.
In our study on SERP clicks, we found that a business’s review rating was the biggest reason people clicked on local listings. Whether consumers are looking on Google My Business, Yelp, or HomeAdvisor, a low star rating could put off many potential customers well before they dig into the details of the reviews. Only 53% of consumers would use a business that has less than 4 stars – so this should be the bare minimum you aim for.
This is another area where we saw different expectations across the three age segments. 17% of 35-54-year-olds won’t use a business that has a less than perfect rating. And, only 7% of consumers older than 55 would use a business that has less than 3 stars – meaning lower-rated businesses could put off a significant proportion of possible customers.
How many reviews do consumers read?
The average consumer reads a whopping 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business, which means it’s not good for businesses to have very few reviews.
On review sites such as Google, reviews aren’t initially ordered by the most recent. This means it’s important for every business to know which are the top reviews that appear for their business. Upvoting useful reviews can be one way to influence the order that reviews show. Additionally, encouraging reviewers to talk about the factors that other customers may be looking for, such as your service, your products, and attributes (such as being dog-friendly) can be useful.
When looking across the age groups, both the 18-34 age group and 35-54 now read more reviews before trusting a business than they did in 2018. The younger age group now need to read 13 reviews, compared to 11 last year, while 35-54s have jumped from 9 to 11. Over 55s have seen a dip from 8 to 7, though this is still a significant number of reviews.
But this doesn’t mean that you only need 10 reviews. Remember, a significant proportion are only impacted by very recent reviews. This means it’s more important than ever to build a reputation management strategy focused on generating a steady stream of reviews across 2020.
But remember, it’s not enough to focus your attention on just one review site. 70% of consumers look at multiple review sites when choosing a local business.
And there are plenty to choose from. While Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, and Facebook are commonly known, there are dozens of niche review sites that allow consumers to easily compare similar services. Businesses should be ensuring they are monitoring every review site, and pushing reviewers towards the review sites that their customers are finding them on. Ask new customers how they found you to ensure you have every angle covered.
How many consumers read fake reviews in 2019?
Over the past few years, fake reviews have become a huge problem, meaning many local marketers now spend a significant amount of time fighting these spammers. And, from the chart above, it seems like the fake reviews furore shows no sign of abating.
In 2019, 82% of consumers read a fake review – up from 74% last year. So does this mean that fake reviews are becoming more common, or could it be that increasingly savvy consumers are starting to suspect fakes could be around?
Again, there are differences across the age groupings. 92% of 18-34-year-olds spotted fake reviews, compared to 82% of 35-54-year-olds, and 71% of over 55s. Of course, this disparity doesn’t necessarily mean that these age groups are seeing different numbers of fake reviews (though, of course, those that read more reviews are more likely to). Instead, this could indicate that the older age group aren’t as likely to consider that reviews may be false.
It seems that not every consumer is as suspicious as us local marketers may be – with 68% of consumers questioning the authenticity of reviews. Just 9% said they don’t question the authenticity of reviews, and 23% are unsure.
Of course, while fake reviews can damage legitimate businesses’ chances, they can be difficult to spot, and aren’t as easy to see as they are on Amazon, for example. On many review sites, users can leave reviews with no text, and there’s no process to ensure these are consumers that have legitimately encountered the business.
We know how important reviews are for customers and local businesses alike, so we’d love to see more consumers feeling able to trust reviews by the time the next Local Consumer Review Survey rolls around. But first, review site owners need to step up and really start to tackle the fake reviews problem.
Responding to Customer Reviews
Do consumers read businesses’ responses to their customers’ reviews?
The above question was only asked to respondents that said they read reviews.
A whopping 97% of review readers take in businesses’ responses to reviews. This has grown from 89% last year to include nearly every person that has read reviews for local businesses – making it a normal part of the reviews process.
The frequency of reading responses has also grown – with 46% saying they “always” read responses, up from 29% last year.
Responding to reviews is your chance to demonstrate what your business and customer service are really like. If you respond promptly, politely, and helpfully to less-than-glowing reviews, you have the opportunity to influence far more than the person who left the original review. This is your chance to tell your side of the story, as well as to help change the mind of the reviewer.
How do reviews responses impact consumers?
71% of consumers say they’re more likely to use a business that has responded to their existing reviews. This makes this a critical point of difference for your business.
Ignoring negative feedback could deter consumers from choosing your business, so it’s critical to keep on top of your online presence across the internet. It’s not enough to just respond to reviews on one platform – you must be watching every place customers may be talking about your business, including industry-specific review sites.
And remember, it’s not enough to only respond to negative reviews. If a customer is leaving a review for a business, they have spent their time providing feedback. Business owners should follow suit, and show that they are committed to listening to what their audience has to say.
Posting Online Reviews
How many consumers write online reviews for local businesses?
- 66% of consumers have written an online review for local businesses – including 80% of 35-54-year-olds
- 60% have written reviews for positive experiences, while just 25% have written reviews for negative experiences
- 85% of consumers are willing to leave reviews
Two out of three (66%) consumers have now written a review for a local business – up from 59% last year. And again, there seems to be a dramatic disparity between age groups. Just 48% of people aged 55+ have left online reviews, compared to 73% and 80% for the two other age groups.
Within this, it’s more common for consumers to leave reviews for positive experiences than for negative ones. This equates to 60% of consumers who have written reviews for positive experiences, and 25% who have for negative experiences.
This slightly subverts expectations, as you may expect a poor experience to be a bigger emotional driver for leaving public feedback than a positive one. But, with more businesses realizing the importance of proactive review management, we’d estimate that review writing is becoming more encouraged among happy shoppers.
The number of consumers leaving reviews is growing, but this doesn’t mean it’s peaked yet. Of the 34% of consumers that haven’t yet left an online review, more than half (56%) would be willing to leave one in the future. This means that 85% of consumers are willing to be open-minded to leaving reviews, so it’s critical to ensure every customer has an equally great experience – not just the ones that you think might complain!
How many reviews did reviewers write for local businesses in 2019?
This question was only asked to people who have left reviews.
- Consumers that write reviews wrote an average of 9 in 2019
- 18-34-year-olds write more than double the number of reviews that over 55s do
- 9% of people have written more than 20 reviews
When looking at the 66% of people that have written reviews, the average number of reviews written per person in 2019 was 9.
But, this isn’t equally split across age groups. 18-34-year-olds wrote 11 reviews in 2019, while reviewers over 55 left far fewer.
Just 9% of reviewers wrote more than 20 reviews in 2019. While Local Guides and regular reviewers do account for many reviews, it’s absolutely not the case that they are the only ones to worry about. 47% of reviewers write less than 3 reviews per year, so may only be inspired to write one for exceptional (or exceptionally bad!) service.
How many consumers have been asked to write local business reviews?
Of course, reviews aren’t necessarily always down to the consumer, as asking for reviews can have a significant impact.
Asking for reviews has remained broadly static over the past year, with 67% of consumers having been asked for reviews.
But, among those that have been asked, a growing amount went on to actually leave a review. 76% of those who are asked to leave reviews go on to do so, up from 70% last year.
In most cases, we strongly recommend asking for reviews – after all, if you don’t ask, you won’t get. However, please do be mindful that not every review site welcomes solicited reviews. Yelp frowns upon businesses that ask for reviews in any form, while Google will penalize businesses that opt to gate their reviews by only allowing those that lead positive feedback to write reviews.
The data also finds that younger consumers are more likely to recall being asked to leave a review than those aged over 55. 50% of the older age group said they hadn’t been asked, compared to 26% of 18-34-year-olds, and 31% of 35-54s. Are local businesses not asking consumers to leave reviews at an equal rate?
How common are responses to reviews?
This year, we also wanted to know whether review writers were receiving responses to their reviews. At BrightLocal, we encourage our Reputation Manager customers to respond to their customers to ensure they feel that their feedback is being heard.
And it’s not enough to provide a standard copy-and-paste response. Instead, really listen to what the customer is saying. See if there you can take any learnings for your business from their feedback, and consider what you’d like the 97% of the outside world reading your replies to believe about your business following your response.
72% of people who have written reviews received a response to a review they have written. To these businesses that are keeping on top of their reviews, we applaud you. However, this does leave 22% who didn’t receive a response, as well as 6% who weren’t sure either way. It can be hard to keep track of responses to reviews, but rest assured, your responses are being read, even if not by the original reviewer.
How do businesses ask customers for reviews?
The above question was only answered by those that had been asked to leave reviews.
Top ways to ask for a review
- In person during the sale
- In an email
- Over the phone
- On a receipt
- In an SMS message
There are plenty of ways to ask for reviews. The most common ways consumers recall being asked are during the sale, via email, and over the phone.
In industries where you collect customers’ contact details, following up after the sale can be a great way to ensure your customer remains happy with the experience, and that you can tackle any issues head-on before the customer considers writing a bad public review. Of course, choose carefully – many consumers may feel uneasy if they receive an unexpected call following a minor purchase.
Plenty of consumers are being asked for reviews in various less common ways. Including a link to review on a receipt or business card can be a great way to get customers thinking about your services. To create a link to direct customers to feedback, try out our Reputation Manager.
A surprising number of consumers report being asked to leave a review in return for a discount, freebie, or in exchange for cash. When taking into account those that have been asked to leave a review in more than one of these ways, 24% have been asked to leave a review in exchange for cash, freebies, or discounts. For the vast majority of review sites, incentivizing reviews in this way this is a huge no-no. It’s also morally questionable as to whether these reviews can be trusted as being authentic to the real business experience.
The 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey explores trends in online reviews for local businesses over the past year. It includes new and modified questions based on the key SEO and local business reviews seen throughout the year to provide local marketers the information needed to maximize their online reputation management impact.
The statistics and findings are solely focused on local business reviews on sites such as Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp etc., and not general product reviews (such as on Amazon).
Based on the views of a representative sample of 1,005 US-based consumers, the Local Consumer Review Survey was conducted in November 2019 with an independent consumer panel. Age-group breakdowns are representative of those in the US population.
Consumers that do not read online reviews were not asked questions around their review behavior, in order to provide a better understanding of those that do use reviews during a purchasing decision.
Publishers are welcome to use the charts and data, crediting BrightLocal and linking to this URL. If you have any questions about the report, please get in touch with the content team, or leave a comment below.
Thank you for reading the 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey. How do you think online reviews will change in 2020? Let us know in the comments below!
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