Each year BrightLocal publishes the eagerly anticipated and well respected results of its annual Local Consumer Review Survey. Year in, year out, the survey affirms the supremacy of online reviews as a dominant driver of consumer choice. This year has been unique in our lifetimes, as the Covid-19 pandemic forced populations into lockdowns, resulting in substantial economic effects, which we will feel for many years to come. In this first piece reporting on the results of BrightLocal’s survey I will outline some of the key findings relating to consumers, reviews, and Covid-19.

“With Covid-19 shuttering many local businesses across the world, consumers were forced to choose businesses in different ways. Feeling able to trust a local business became more important than ever – with online reviews playing a key role in whether some consumers felt safe enough to use a business.” (Source: “Local Consumer Review Survey 2020,” BrightLocal).

While the survey is made up of answers from US respondents, it holds relevance here, as in most countries around the world, and the fact that consumers actively looked for Covid H&S measures in reviews is telling and a great pointer for businesses while the threat of the disease still lingers. Consumers read reviews to feel safe and secure enough to contact a business, and in the midst of a pandemic, where safety takes on a fuller meaning, businesses that advertise and enforce their commitment to Covid-19 health and safety practices, put themselves in a very good place.

The figure of 17% saying they left negative feedback against businesses that do not have safety plans in action only further enforces that and also makes a very good point about the nature of what are categotised as ‘negative reviews’. Consumers leave challenging feedback for a number of reasons and in the main it is that they do not want someone else to have the unsatisfactory experience, and/or results that they have. During a pandemic that feeling is heightened and consumers are more motivated than ever to warn others, especially if they feel they could be in danger of infection and all that entails.

The figure of 22% of respondents writing reviews to support local businesses is of no surprise to us at NoCowboys as we experienced a surge of review numbers during the various lockdown levels throughout the country. This was for a few reasons. Firstly, more people were at home, and had more focus and time to write reviews – more than they would ‘normally’. Secondly, the pandemic has driven home the importance and vitality of what ‘local’ actually means – especially when travelling outside of areas was prohibited.

More than that there is a steadily growing consumer affiliation with local businesses over global companies. It is not surprising that consumers would want to leave feedback to help businesses that they knew were struggling because of restrictions or lockdowns. While a number of multi-national or global companies (such as Wilson’s Parking) took government wage subsidies and then made substantial profits, without paying the subsidy back, local businesses found it incredibly difficult to survive. Consumers wanted, and still want to share the love and do what they can to help – choosing them over other companies – and leaving them feedback so they can build their customer bases.