9 in 10 US Consumers Say They Read Online Reviews About Local Businesses

brightlocal-use-online-reviews-judge-local-businesses-nov2016About two-thirds of US consumers have reviewed or recommended a local business through word-of-mouth in the past year, making this the leading method for recommending local businesses, according to the latest annual Local Consumer Review Survey from BrightLocal. But while social and review sites are less commonly used, more than 9 in 10 read online reviews to determine whether a local business is good or bad, with half claiming to do so regularly.

Interestingly enough, those who read online reviews are far more likely to use a search engine (63%) to find them than to go directly to a review site (37%).

Whatever their means of getting there, most consumers need to read between 2 and 6 reviews before they feel they can trust a business, and a majority will look at 2-3 review sites before making a decision about a business.

Overall star rating (58%) remains the most important factor for consumers when judging a local business on its reviews, ahead of the sentiment of the reviews (47%) and their recency (41%). Only 1 in 5 pay most attention to whether or not the business has responded to reviews, though it’s worth noting that research suggests that doing so can have significant benefits for brands.

With regards to star ratings – the most commonly-used factor for judging local businesses – the survey results indicate that the vast majority (86%) of respondents need at least a rating of 3 out of 5 to use a business. That includes almost half (45%) who won’t do business with a company with a star rating below 4 out of 5.

Reviews are one of the largest purchase influencers for American adults, according to MarketingCharts’ research, and the BrightLocal study demonstrates that they can have a significant impact on readers’ opinions of local businesses: 74% say that positive reviews make them trust a business more, while 60% say that negative reviews make them question the quality of the business. In fact, 84% are as likely to trust online reviews as personal recommendations, though with some caveats regarding review authenticity and business type, among others. Indeed, only 18% always trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, though that’s more than double the proportion (8%) from last year’s survey.

In other results from the study:

  • A majority (54%) of respondents will visit the website of a local business after reading positive reviews;
  • Restaurants and caf├Ęs are the types of local businesses that consumers read reviews about the most, and the types for which reputation matters the most when choosing a business;
  • 7 in 10 respondents have been asked by a business to leave them an online review, and of those, more than 70% did leave a review; and
  • The use of the mobile web to read reviews for a local business in the prior year jumped from 38% of respondents in 2015 to 61% this year.

About the Data: The results are based on a September 2016 survey of 1,062 members of BrightLocal’s US-based consumer panel.