Survey: 72% of Shoppers Use Online Reviews to Judge Local Businesses

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Online channels are influencing offline purchases in a big way, according to data from a newly released consumer survey from Netsertive. The digital marketing technology company found that 72% percent of consumers use online reviews to evaluate local businesses and eight-in-10 always research big items online before making their purchases in-store.

For brick-and-mortar retailers still debating the merits of online marketing, Netsertive’s survey results demonstrate the importance of having a presence across as many channels as possible. For example, 68% of the 500 U.S. consumers surveyed said they use Google to evaluate local businesses, and 40% said they use Facebook for local store research, regardless of whether the business sells online or even has a social media presence.

“We live in a click-to-brick economy,” says Tim McLain, segment marketing manager for Netsertive. “Your small business now has two doors—a digital door and a physical door. Customers will swing through your digital door and visit your website first, but when they’re ready to buy, they’ll get in their car and swing through your physical doors.”

McLain recommends that business owners invest as much attention, care, and funding into their websites as they do into their brick-and-mortar storefronts.

“It’s never been a better time to own a local brick-and-mortar store. More than 90% of retail purchases still happen locally—not online,” he says. “Even when local customers want to buy something fast, they still turn to a local store to buy.”

Speed is one of the local merchant’s greatest assets. Despite improving delivery times on the part of e-commerce websites, more than 70% of consumers in Netsertive’s survey said they still go to local stores to buy, or they are evenly split between buying online and in-store.

With speed on their side, SMBs should still be doing more to take advantage of online research on the path to in-store purchases, the survey suggests. For example, Google was listed as the No. 1 channel consumers use to find out information about local stores, above stores’ own websites and Facebook pages. That means the information that pops up in directory listings and maps is incredibly important, and outdated or incorrect information—such as an old address or phone number—could cause retailers to miss out on sales.

Netsertive found significant cross-channel benefits for businesses that combine social media advertising and search engine marketing. Comparing the search engine traffic for 2,782 businesses not investing in Facebook advertising against 199 businesses running Facebook ads over a 10-month period, Netsertive found that, on average, SMBs who invested in multiple channels in the same campaign received 50% more clicks, 23% more search engine marketing impressions, and 50% more search conversions.

“Local shoppers exposed to a Facebook ad also had greater brand awareness, leading to additional searches on Google and Bing, delivering a significant rise in new customer activity in the form of search conversions,” McLain said.

Despite dire headlines touting the end of brick-and-mortar retail as we know it, McLain maintains a much more positive outlook. Not only does he see the “click-to-brick economy” growing for decades to come, but he also believes that much of the talk surrounding the importance of Millennial shoppers is overblown.

“We’ve spent perhaps too much time talking about Millennials as true ‘digital natives,’ but our survey shows that every generation researches online before they buy in-store,” he says. “In a few short years, 100% of retail purchases will be influenced by the internet. … Whether shoppers buy online or in-store, every business must establish a digital presence to turn clicks into customers.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.