As Black Friday approaches, discounts are not the first thing Australians will be looking at when they are choosing a business to buy from, according to a new study.
While many retailers are set to offer eye-watering bargains during the popular sales event, and into the Christmas shopping period, many Aussies will look to Google Reviews before walking into a shop or finalising an online purchase, research data from communications and payments platform Podium has revealed.
The research found as many as 84 per cent of Aussies were influenced by Google Reviews when choosing a business, with most looking for a minimum star rating of 3.5.
Also read: Don't get ripped off this Black Friday
Data also showed that more than a quarter of Australians (28 per cent) would read a business’s reviews before they even decided to enter a shop, making Google Reviews one of the most powerful forms of free advertising today.
'Essential' Google Reviews
While it used to be a "nice to have", in today's world, Google Reviews had become an essential, Podium Australia country manager Dave Scheine explained.
"Word of mouth has always been the lifeblood of small business, but in today’s digital-first world, it exists online," Scheine told Yahoo Finance.
"For consumers, reviews are relatable and authentic, and are genuinely influential in their choice of which businesses to engage - whether that’s a retailer, a mechanic, a restaurant, a dentist or something else entirely. Consumers rely heavily on online reviews to discover businesses, so it's not an exaggeration to say that businesses who rely solely on foot traffic and physical location are in danger of being left behind.
"If a consumer can't find a business online, or they can but their reviews are underwhelming, they'll look for a competitor," Scheine said, adding that with Black Friday and peak retail season approaching, competition could be intense.
Businesses who had optimised their Google Reviews would be better placed to succeed, Scheine continued.
"Google Reviews are a key driver of SEO [search engine optimisation], which is how businesses become searchable online," he said.
"When a consumer searches for 'guitar shop near me' or 'local bookstore in Brisbane', those with great Google Reviews will rank far higher than those without. The key for local retailers is to provide an exceptional customer experience, and then encourage and incentivise happy customers to leave reviews.
"For local retailers, it's about proactively incentivising happy customers to leave reviews, rather than sitting back and hoping."
Scheine continued: "The 'support local' sentiment is strong and inspiring in Australia but, through our research, we're definitely seeing a trend in terms of consumers prioritising those who demonstrate - through reviews - how they’ve provided exceptional experiences for their peers."
Importance to business success
According to Podium, more than half (51 per cent) of Australians said a business's response to reviews had changed their perspective, while 44 per cent would travel further and pay more to frequent an enterprise with better reviews. As many as 69 per cent said they would leave a one-star review due to an employee’s attitude.
Less than half of businesses (45 per cent) however, considered online reviews to be "very important" to their business success.
Ryan Lamb, manager of South Melbourne specialist guitar store Acoustic Centre, is one who attests to the influence good reviews can have on a business.
Acoustic Centre, which has more than 1,100 Google Reviews, has an average rating of 4.9 stars.
"Our customers are our whole business," Lamb told Yahoo Finance.
"We're a specialist music store but we're not just about selling guitars, we're about building relationships and a shared love for music. We want every interaction with every customer to be meaningful and personalised, but also convenient and easy. If it's important to our customers, it's important to us - that's reflected in our reviews today.
"We understood how consumers are changing and, while it’s still so valuable to have a physical location, the online presence is so important too. We decided to channel our best-in-industry products and customer experience into the pursuit of more Google Reviews. Our community has exploded since we started proactively requesting reviews at the end of a sale, and we've noticed an increase in the number of customers, the number of reviews and the number of good reviews.
Lamb said it had had a huge impact on retention and loyalty.
"We had many first-time customers during the pandemic, and now they’re on their third or fourth guitar with us," he said.