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We all know that online reviews are a major factor in helping consumers make decisions about what brands to buy from. But recent research we conducted with the Local Search Association (LSA) revealed something really interesting: there’s a large gap between what how consumers use online reviews to make those decisions and what businesses think that consumers want.

How Online Reviews Rank in Consumer Decision-Making Process

While reading reviews and ratings about businesses has always been important, consumers now rank these resources as the #1 influence on their purchases. A whopping 71% of consumers read reviews before every (or almost every) purchase they make.

Let’s stop and consider the weight of this statistic, which increases even more for the 18-35-year-old demographic to 80.5%.

In the past, things like a brand offering discounts or being conveniently located, as well as having a recommendation from a friend, were what drove people to buy from a company. While those are still important factors to consumers in the purchase decision, positive online ratings and reviews now trump all.

So where are consumers reading these reviews? Google, overwhelmingly, followed by Amazon, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and OpenTable. Because reviews are now included in business profiles and listings, more consumers are now using them to make their decisions.

And while the content of the reviews matter, stars or ranking matter more. More than 50% of consumers have passed on a business that lacked enough stars to warrant it worth checking out.

Where Businesses are Missing the Mark

Most businesses understand the importance that online reviews have, though not the degree to which consumers rely on them. And unfortunately, only 21.3% of businesses are regularly using review sites as part of their marketing strategy.

Another cause for the gap between brands and consumers when it comes to online reviews: response time. While some businesses respond immediately or within 24 hours of a review being posted, 40% respond later…or, not at all. This has the potential for disaster. If a reviewer leaves a negative review that goes unresponded to by the brand, that brand risks losing a lot of business from people who see the bad review. A simple apology response can go a long way to compelling others to give the brand a chance.

Simply having a strategy for attracting, monitoring, and responding to online reviews (which only 50% of small businesses have) could help brands better understand their audience and deliver improved customer service. Putting insufficient attention on their online reputation can result in lower ratings, visibility, and lost customers.

Without truly understanding how important reviews have become in the purchase journey, businesses may be missing a key opportunity to convert prospects and retain customers. Fortunately, it doesn’t take many resources or much time to incorporate online reviews into a marketing strategy.

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