Feature

People Trust Strangers As Much As Friends

3 minute read
Tom Murphy avatar

The ironweed and ivy vines taking over my garden tell me I need a better weed wacker. So I've been reading online reviews and consulting a lot offriends.

Like many consumers, I'm finding both sources are a good supplements to theraw data available on the web, like the size of the motor and the diameter ofthe cutting line.

When a stranger tells me "this machine broke after three uses," Itake it very seriously. And if someone says "this cut through my ivy likebutter," that makes me smile.

Consumer Sentiments

Turns out, I'm pretty typical, according to a just-released surveyof 2,104 consumers conducted by BrightLocal,which guides agencies and consultants with online search optimization. It's thefourth year the company has conducted the survey, which was sent to its panel of5,000 consumers in North America. 

What surprised me was that 88 percent of consumers who said they trustreviews by total strangers online as much as they trust recommendations fromtheir friends. That was up from 79 percent in last year's survey.

"Local consumers are placing more trust in online reviews that everybefore," said Myles Anderson, BrightLocal's CEO, who wrote an analysis ofthe survey, though it turns out that trust is somewhat conditional.

Of the 88 percent, 32 percent said they'd trust online reviews as much asfriends only if there were multiple reviews to read. Three in 10 consumers saidthey'd trust the recommendations if they "believe the reviews areauthentic." And 26 percent said it depends on the type of business.

Authenticity, according to Anderson, "is equally as important asquantity."

That said, there was also a sign that consumers are getting less skepticalabout online reviews. Only 13 percent said they don't trust  onlinerecommendations as much as those from friends, down from 21 percent last year.

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Learning Opportunities

Once consumers read a positive review, 72 percent take some kind of action.About 57 percent will visit a website and 15 percent will call a local business.Just 22 percent said they continue to shop around.

Curiously, 47 percent said reputation mattered most with doctors or dentists(47 percent).  Restaurants were about the same (46 percent, auto repair andcar dealers cam in third (30 percent), and hotels finished last (30).

Delivering Quality

Reliability was considered the most important trait in a business'reputation, with 27 percent of the sample picking that. That was followed withexpertise (21 percent) and professionalism (18 percent).

"A lot of online reviews will often highlight the perceived friendlinessor courtesy of a local business," Anderson said. "However, whilstthese are positive factors, we can see that reliability, expertise andprofessionalism are far more important traits for potential customers."

Star ratings matter, too. Ninety-two percent of the consumers said they'd usea local business if it had a four-star rating and 73 percent said they'd settlefor a three-star rating. More than one in four (27 percent) would even accept atwo-star rating, the survey said.

Meanwhile, none of this has helped to fight my weeds. My friends are dividedin recommending two different weed wackers and both have online reviews in the4.5 to 5 star category. One, however, is cheaper and is recommended strongly bya local retailer -- factors not considered in BrightLocal's survey.