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How is COVID-19 Impacting the Online Review?

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You already knew online reviews were a key to business success in the digital age and a crucial tool in delivering top notch customer service, but insights from a recent survey by interaction management platform Podium, are revealing how customers old and new have changed the way they engage with reviews and just how important that feedback has become in a world transformed by COVID-19. 

According to the company’s 2020 State of Online Review survey, reviews influenced 88 percent of consumers in discovering local businesses, and only 12 percent of those consumers reporting that reviews did not play a role in their discovery of a local business. 

Additionally Forty-one percent of respondents said reviews were a top factor in choosing to do business with a local business, with reviews found to be twice as important as loyalty and 7.4 times more likely to be an important factor in decision-making than traditional marketing. 

But how exactly have reviews been impacted by the onset of this year’s global pandemic? Ratchet+Wrench checked in with Brett Steele, head of auto services for Podium to discuss. 

What do you find to be the factors impacting the way customers engage with online reviews?

It’s likely that times are tight for a lot of people and there are a lot of consumers that are feeling  uncertain about the economy so consumers are trying to be even more strategic now with how they’re spending their money, and trying to make the most of those purchases. A lot of consumers are trying to physical limit exposure as well. Consumers aren’t all out shopping the way we might have at this time last year, so if you’re trying to limit where you’re going, you want it to be a business you trust and review play a big role in that. 

What were some of the most surprising insights you discovered through the survey?

Definitely travel. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they’d be willing to travel to a business that’s further away just because of good reviews, whereas before it had always been about location, location, location. To take that point one step further, we also saw that 28 percent of respondents said they’d looked up a businesses’ review while they were parked or nearby a business to decide if they’d go in or not, which can be eye-opening to think about. 

Additionally 47 percent said they’d pay more for a service that has higher reviews and what that means is the shop’s experience, their staff and their ability to do the job is climbing the ladder in terms of the factors customers are willing to pay more for.

They’re willing to be more flexible on price and open up their wallets a bit more if they can feel like they’re likely to get good, quality service based on what they’ve seen from others online. That also means that this shift from the customers and their decision-making patterns actually help value your service higher. If they’re willing to pay more for your service, you have a bit of power there in terms of the rates you’re able to set. 

What else are consumers looking for in reviews these days? How might that look different from the factors they were looking for pre-pandemic?

Quantity is still important. If you’ve just got a few good reviews, customers are going to want to see more than that before ultimately deciding on you. 

But recency and relevance are far more important now than they’ve ever been before. Respondents indicated that a review has to be recent and relevant in order for potential customers to care about it. 

And now, consumers are searching those reviews to learn about your COVID policies and the safety measures you have in place, how well you stuck to them and if a customer felt safe in your business. Nearly 50 percent of respondents said they’re reading reviews to check for and validate that a business has COVID-19 safety practices and to hear what that experience has looked like for other customers. It adds a whole new level of urgency for reviews that reflect real-time experiences a customer can base their decisions around and figure out if it’s a business they’re comfortable going forward with. 

How has COVID impacted the reviews customers are actually leaving?

Consumers are feeling more empathy toward local businesses in the midst of COVID-19. They’re more likely to leave a good review, and conversely less likely to leave a bad review (for an experience that they normally would have), than they were before the pandemic to try to help a local business out. 

People want to see local businesses stay open and survive through everything that’s happened this year, and they’re more willing to spend the time and use their voice to help a local business out in that way. They’re trying to give businesses a break in the small way that they can, but that’s going to make a big impact for that local business at the end of the day. 

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