LEHI, Utah -- Online reviews are an increasingly valuable resource for customers searching for goods and services at local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Podium. The results from the nationwide study highlight how COVID-19 has driven key shifts in expectations and perceptions around online reviews, particularly in relation to local businesses.
According to the data, 88% of Americans confirmed that online reviews play a role in them discovering a new local business, and 71% believe reviews matter more today than ever before. In addition, two in five (41%) Americans feel more compelled to patronize local businesses now than they did prior to COVID-19; and since the beginning of the pandemic, 33% have found a new local business by their home that they didn't previously patronize.
"Companies need every advantage they can get right now, and the importance of positive online reviews can't be overlooked," said Eric Rea, co-founder and CEO at Podium. "Local businesses are impacted by online reviews more now than before the pandemic hit, and successfully managing reviews is an essential skill for any business – even those that do not primarily operate over the internet."
Customers are searching reviews for how companies are handling COVID-19
Protective efforts like social distancing observance and mask-wearing policies were largely unknown in the U.S. before COVID-19 hit, but many survey respondents identified them as among the three most important characteristics they now look for in online business reviews during the pandemic.
Overall, 39% of respondents prioritized mask-wearing policies and 31% social distancing observance. The youngest (18-29) and oldest (>60) groups cared the most about mask-wearing and social distancing, respectively. Women also cared more than men, on average.
- 18-29: 42%
- 30-44: 34%
- 45 - 60: 33%
- >60: 46%
- Male: 34%; female: 44%
Social distancing observance
- 18-29: 37%
- 30-44: 26%
- 45 - 60: 27%
- >60: 36%
- Male: 25%; female: 37%
In ranking the top three characteristics respondents were looking for in online reviews before the pandemic, they overwhelmingly agreed on quality of service or products (80%), good prices (75%) and good customer service (75%). Those all dropped significantly during the pandemic (quality to 56%, prices to 54%, customer service to 52%) as more people prioritized COVID-19 responses.
Social distancing policies are as important as store appearance in choosing a local business
Over one-quarter of respondents (27%) believe that a company's social distancing policies are among the most important characteristics when choosing a local business, roughly equal with the appearance of the store (28%), and above familiarity (21%) and loyalty (19%).
Leading the list of characteristics were location (61%), price or promotions (55%) and personal recommendations (50%).
Customers want to be understanding, but still expect good service from their local business
Nearly half of respondents (45%) who might otherwise leave a negative review would consider refraining during COVID-19, with the understanding that many local businesses have operational challenges right now.
In general, women (49%) were more willing than men (40%) to extend review clemency.
At the same time, bad customer service was the number one response (59%) when respondents were asked to pick a single reason why they might give a business a one-star review. Unsafe COVID-19 policies was next at 26%.
Online reviews are driving last-minute decisions
Nearly three in ten (28%) respondents said they had looked up online reviews for a business while standing or parked out front when deciding whether or not to enter.
Younger people are more likely to use reviews in making doorstop decisions:
- 18-29: 35%; 30-44: 38%; 45 - 60: 23%; >60: 18%
Good management of online reviews can make a difference
Customers' opinions of a local business can change when the businesses respond to online reviews. Fifty-six percent of respondents said their perspective on a business has shifted due to the business' response to reviews.
While over half of every age group agreed that businesses' responses had changed their opinions, people aged 18-29 were most likely (64%) to be influenced.
To access the full report, click here. For more information about how Podium can help local businesses maximize online reviews during COVID-19, visit www.podium.com.
This nationally representative survey was conducted online within the United States by SurveyMonkey on behalf of Podium from October 9 to October 21, 2020 among 1,543 Americans ages 18 and up.