In a poll conducted in early November by Street Fight, 500 U.S. consumers were asked who or what sources they are most likely to consult before visiting a local business. The survey found that 37% say they ask a friend or colleague for an opinion of the business; 36% visit that merchant’s website; 16% examine the merchant’s reputation on review sites; and just 11% conduct local searches for information about that business and/or nearby competitors. The survey was conducted on behalf of Street Fight by third-party opinions platform Toluna QuickSurveys.
But the inclination to turn to digital sources first varies by age. Among those 18-34, 39% are most likely to rely on a merchant’s website, followed by 30% on a friend’s anecdotal experiences. Among the presumably less-tech-inclined 55-and-older consumers, 50% are most dependent on a peer’s experiences, compared with only 30% on a merchant’s website. Meanwhile, 22% of consumers 18-34 are most reliant on digital reviews, whereas a measly 7% of those 55 and up rely on reviews platforms.
The results conflict with other data that show that local businesses have a better chance of converting customers if they have a website. But, according to a recent Google report, 58% of U.S. small business don’t have websites, even while 97% of consumers search online for local products and services. Another report conducted by Web.com found that 26% of small businesses have a mobile-optimized website.
If business owners are serious about attracting these younger consumers into their storefronts, they need to properly manage an accurate, high-quality Web presence across an array of networks (including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare, their own websites and many others). For businesses operating under time and monetary constraints, that may not be welcome news.
On the other hand, a website offers businesses a certain control unavailable with a particular consumer’s subjective review. As long as local businesses can accurately and efficiently maintain their online presence — with a user-friendly site including hours of operation, contact information and other offerings that indexes near the top of Google’s and Bing‘s search results — these digital footprints should prove a net positive in attracting customers.
The findings closely echo those of a similar Street Fight poll, released late last month, that unveiled word-of-mouth as the primary driver of local business.