Brandify Study Shows Consumer Search Preferences for Healthcare, Restaurants, and Retail

Last year, Brandify conducted a consumer survey that revealed habits and preferences among US consumers for a range of digital tools used to search for local businesses. We also asked consumers about the types of businesses for which they search and found that consumers use tools like Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Yelp to search for nearby businesses of all kinds. The study offered a few indications that consumer preferences might differ from one business category to another.

Based on those early indications, we’ve produced a new study, “The Brandify Vertical Search Habits Survey.” In March 2020, we surveyed 1,066 consumers across the US, asking about their preferred digital tools when searching for healthcare providers, restaurants, and retail stores. We also asked consumers about the data points that matter most to them when searching for these three types of businesses.

Platform Preferences by Vertical

As far as digital tools, we were not surprised to discover that Google was the most popular choice for all verticals, but what we might call “Google alternatives,” such as Apple Maps, Yelp, and Facebook, were popular to varying degrees depending on the vertical.

For example, consumers searching for healthcare providers rated themselves more likely to use Apple Maps than any tool besides Google, while those searching for restaurants were more likely to use Yelp.

In terms of overall likelihood to use each of the digital tools we asked about, the results for healthcare providers were as follows.

When we asked the same question about restaurants, the order of preference changed, with Yelp overtaking second position. Note too that the likelihood scores differ significantly between healthcare and restaurants. For example, if we consider the percentage of consumers who selected “very likely” or “somewhat likely” as a group that is at least somewhat likely to use a particular tool, we can observe that consumers are 17 percentage points more likely to use Yelp and 18 percentage points more likely to use Facebook for restaurants than for healthcare providers.

We see Yelp and Facebook both making good showings here as Google alternatives. While 95% of consumers said they were at least somewhat likely to use Google when searching for restaurants — a high bar for any competitor to meet — Yelp and Facebook still managed to score majorities, with 65% at least somewhat likely to use Yelp and 56% at least somewhat likely to use Facebook.

Finally, here is the breakdown of preferences for retail stores. 

Interestingly, the preference pattern for retail stores is similar to that of healthcare providers, with Google, Apple, and Yelp taking the first three positions in order of preference. Amazon (Echo and other Alexa devices) posted the strongest showing in retail among the three categories, with about 38% of consumers saying they were at least somewhat likely to use Amazon devices to search for retail stores. It’s of course possible that Amazon’s strong association with online retail created some fuzziness in consumers’ minds, though Alexa devices are also particularly well suited to retail in comparison with other verticals.

Data Preferences by Vertical

Turning to the data points preferred by consumers, we found that for healthcare, consumers tended to favor hours and basic contact information, suggesting that consumers may feel digital tools are not a primary means of finding new doctors, but rather a way to easily look up needed information: the address of a specialist when leaving for an appointment, for instance, or the closing time of your dentist’s office. 

It’s certainly notable, however, that all data points got a large number of votes from most consumers. For instance, some 94% of consumers found reviews at least somewhat useful when searching for doctors or medical facilities. So, the evaluation aspect of search is certainly present, just slightly less important than the informational aspect. 

The situation reverses with restaurants, where menus were surprisingly the most sought-after item among the consumers we surveyed.

Consumers may be much more likely to use public search tools to find a new restaurant than a new doctor, and they likely search for new restaurants more frequently than they search for new doctors. Indeed, in our previous consumer search survey, we found that 84% of consumers had searched for a restaurant online in the previous 30 days, compared to 33% for doctors or medical facilities. 

We can also note, of course, that search habits during the pandemic are likely to make evaluation of menu items and similar lists of offerings even more important to consumers, who will want as much information as they can get online before venturing out to pick up food or purchase a product. 

As for retail stores, our consumers — who were surveyed before the pandemic’s effects were fully felt — came closer to matching the pattern of those searching for healthcare, again favoring basic information more highly than any other data point. 

Again, it’s worth noting just how highly rated all data points were in our survey across all verticals. Consumers clearly find a range of information to be useful and relevant, and their expectations no doubt reflect the increasing perception, in our so-called zero-click world, that digital tools can provide all the answers consumers need without the necessity of clicking through to a business website.

A note about photos. In order of preference, consumers are most interested in photos when it comes to restaurants, with 52% finding them very useful, followed by retail stores at 38% and 31% for healthcare. It’s reasonable to expect consumers to think of photos as especially important when choosing a dish at a restaurant; this finding aligns, of course, with the strong preference for menu content we’ve already discussed. 

For the other verticals, we can assume that consumers are less acclimated to the idea of seeing and assessing extensive photo content in retail store and healthcare listings. But even in the healthcare category, Google has made a particular point of emphasizing the importance of photos, stating in its new healthcare help page that providers should add “educational pictures and diagrams to help [patients] learn more about what types of health services you provide.”

Clearly, photos are on the rise as an informational component in listings despite the fact that consumers still tend to rate them as less useful than other data points. 

Verticalization in Local Search

Google in particular has made significant moves in recent months to verticalize the consumer search experience. For example, the team responsible for the relatively new Google Travel and Google Hotels sites has reported that they built a new consumer experience for hotels specifically because they noted important differences in the ways consumers searched in that category. 

Brandify’s study illustrates that consumer preferences for additional verticals are similarly differentiated, both in the channels consumers prefer for each vertical and the sorts of information they seek out when searching. Already, the search experience for restaurants, retail stores, and healthcare providers varies by vertical, especially on Google, which has added prominent vertical-specific attributes as a result of Covid-19 such as dine-in, takeout, and pickup availability for restaurants.

Where Google leads, others will follow. Already, we see some vertical differentiation among platforms, with Amazon Alexa for instance showing more popularity for retail searches than the other verticals in our study. More importantly, future developments in platforms like Yelp and Apple Maps will likely follow Google’s lead in providing distinct user experiences based on the category of the business.

Those interested in reading the full study can download it here.

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Damian Rollison writes the Streets Ahead column for Street Fight. He is VP of product strategy at Brandify, and can be reached via Twitter at @damianrollison. Brandify is the publisher of Street Fight.