Who uses online customer reviews?

Customers who read online reviews

The number of internet users reading online reviews has risen dramatically in recent years. For example, the Local Consumer Review Survey 2013 of around 2800 local consumers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom found that:

  • 85% had read online reviews of local businesses
  • 79% trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 67% read 6 reviews or less before making a purchasing decision.

Respondents reported searching for a wide variety of businesses, with restaurants, doctors/dentists, hotels/B&B/guest houses and general shops the most common.

Australian figures tell a similar story. A 2012 Nielsen survey of around 5000 people found that 71% had read reviews, discussions or comments about brands in the past year. And a 2013 Sensis social media survey of approximately 1000 Australians found that:

  • around 74% of respondents reported reading online reviews or blogs before making a purchase decision
  • those aged 20 to 29 were most likely to do so
  • on average, people expected to read 4 reviews before making a decision.

Consumers were most likely to search for information on fashion, electrical goods, computers and cosmetics.

Review sites themselves also report impressive international use figures. For example:

  • Yelp reported 71 million unique visitors per month
  • TripAdvisor reported more than 69 million unique visitors per month
  • Urbanspoon reported 29 million visits per month
  • Australian site Product Review reported more than 14 million visitors each year.

Customers who write online reviews

Far fewer customers actually write online reviews. In Australia, a 2012 Nielsen survey found that:

  • 43% of respondents had discussed or added their own comments about a brand online in the previous year
  • 39% had posted reviews of brands, products or services.

A 2013 Sensis social media survey found smaller but still significant numbers, with interesting differences between women and men. It found that:

  • 28% of respondents had posted reviews or blogs in the last year
  • men (32%) were more likely to post than women (28%)
  • hotels and motels were by far the most popular topics for review, followed by restaurants, holiday destinations, movies, car rental and stores.

Each reviewer is likely to post a number of reviews (e.g. the Sensis survey reported around 9 reviews per person per year). This adds up to a huge number of reviews in total. For example, in early 2012:

  • Yelp reported more than 27 million reviews worldwide
  • TripAdvisor reported around 40 million reviews worldwide.

So it’s important for businesses to engage with customers who post reviews – because their opinions may influence so many other people.

Businesses using online review sites

Millions of businesses worldwide have been the subject of online reviews. If a customer wants to post a review of your business, your business will automatically appear as a listing on their chosen site.

Some review websites publish figures on how many businesses use their sites for promotional purposes. For example:

  • Google reported that approximately 8 million businesses worldwide (16%) had ‘claimed’ their Google Places page by 2012.
  • Yelp noted that around 24,000 businesses had taken out paid advertising on the Yelp site by 2012.
  • Foursquare (a location-based service) reported that 400,000 businesses used the site as a marketing tool in 2011.

However, no review site publishes readily accessible figures on how many businessesrespond to customer reviews. A quick visit to any site reveals that many businesses are joining the conversation, but what percentage of businesses they make up, and whether that percentage is rising, is difficult to say.

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