Whether you want to compete with the big chains or just put yourself on potential customers' radar, the best advertising for a local business is to get more online reviews.
Sam likes a bargain, but she's heard a lot recently about the importance of shopping at local businesses as a way to support the local economy. So when Sam decides it's time to buy a new washing machine, she wants to give her business to a local appliance store.
Still, she's on a tight budget, and she wants to make sure she can get a good deal and good customer service, so she heads to Yelp to check out the options.
Unfortunately, Sam's local appliance store only has two reviews, and they're from a few years ago. She wonders if the store's prices have gone up since then or if it's even still open.
She was at the big box store last week, and she knows that she can always get friendly service and decent prices there. So although Sam would like to support a local place, she's not willing to take the risk without knowing that other people in her community would recommend it.
That's just one example of the ways in which online reviews can affect your success as a local business. Big box and and even smaller chain stores have strong reputations and huge marketing budgets. Plus, customers are used to shopping in them.
If they haven't been to your business recently or at all, they might need some convincing to give it a try... and that's where the tremendous power of local online reviews comes into play.
How Reviews Affect Local Businesses
There's no denying that customers rely heavily on online reviews to make buying decisions. More than 1,000 American consumers weighed in on a recent survey, revealing some interesting information about how people use reviews:
- Just 5 percent of respondents said they never read reviews for local businesses.
- 91 percent of people read reviews at least occasionally.
- 68 percent of respondents said they read fewer than six reviews before forming an opinion about a business.
- 73 percent of respondents don't trust reviews that are more than three months old.
- 84 percent of respondents trust reviews as much as they trust recommendations from friends or other people they know.
So we know that customers trust reviews. We also know that they feel good about shopping at local businesses, thanks in part to Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving when American Express urges people to shop locally. An estimated 112 million Americans shopped locally on that day in 2016, up 13 percent from 2015.
There's more good news. In 2016, 79 percent of people who were aware of Small Business Saturday said they were willing to pay slightly more for an item at a local, independently owned store as opposed to online or at a national chain.
The majority of those customers said that, in exchange for paying more, they expected better customer service than they would get online or at a chain.
What does that mean for you?
- People want to shop at a local business if possible.
- They will still shop with you even if your prices are a little higher than the competition - but your customer service also needs to be better than the competition's.
- Most people in your community look at online reviews before deciding where to shop.
The bottom line: If you want to stay competitive with national chains, you need to give your customers great service and get them to write online reviews talking about you.
How to Get Reviews
The survey mentioned above revealed another interesting fact: 7 out of 10 customers will write reviews if asked.
At the end of every transaction with a customer, make it a habit to ask if he's had a good experience with you, and when he says yes, mention that you would love it if he would review you on Yelp, Google, Facebook or a niche review site for your business (for instance: Zillow for real estate agents or Healthgrades for medical professionals). Just name one or two sites each time.
Visit all the review sites that you want customers to use so you can create profiles for your business on each one and claim them on sites that allow that. Claiming the page allows you to edit it and sometimes to respond to reviews posted there.
We recommend you pick no more than five review sites to focus on. It's better to have 10 reviews posted on five different sites than to have two reviews posted on 20 sites.
An Automated Approach
Asking your customers to write reviews is easy, but sometimes they'll forget to follow through.
Use an automated system like ReputationStacker to help remind them.
It works simply: When you enter a customer's phone number or email address into the system, ReputationStacker reaches out to her with a one-question survey. If the customer reports being satisfied with your business, the system directs her to the review site of your choice. Dissatisfied customers are directed back to you, allowing you to address their concerns and (hopefully) convert them into satisfied customers.
It's the easiest way to consistently get positive online reviews.
Shop Local, Review Local
You may not have the advertising budget or the name recognition of big box stores and chains, but you do have something they don't.
Customers want to shop at local, independent businesses when they can, and when they're confident that a local business will provide a high level of customer service. Getting a steady stream of positive reviews online is an easy way to convince new customers to come check you out.
Use an automated system like ReputationStacker to make it easy for your customers to write reviews on the sites of your choosing.
Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.