By Andy Sevilla
As society becomes more and more digitally inclined, online business review sites are influencing consumers to buy local or shop elsewhere.
Texas State professor of marketing, Karen Smith, who specializes in consumer behavior and social cause marketing, said in a telephone interview that business review websites are an information source that’s reasonably credible.
“Even though people don’t know them [the reviewers], they’re credible because they also are consumers,” she said.
A quick search on Yelp showed countless reviews for numerous businesses in Kyle and Buda.
“I’m a Texan, I’ve traveled across the South, I had a Grampa who knew how to toss meat on the fire. THIS IS THE BEST BRISKET EVAH,” said Jenny E. from Austin in her review of Milt’s Pit BBQ in Kyle.
“I don’t hand out a five star very often, but this place definitely earned it. Everything was good. Everything,” Josh P. of Memphis, TN, said in his Yelp review of Milt’s.
These types of reviews, Smith said, encourage consumers to stop by and explore businesses that are highly regarded by other consumers. By the same token, reviews that mostly disparage a business could turn consumers away from shopping at the location, she said.
“I use yelp, yahoo, and Facebook reviews before I try any new places to eat,” Charisa McBee said on the Hays Free Press Facebook page. “For the most part the reviews are always accurate. While I always remember to take the negative responses with a grain of salt when 90% of the feedback is positive by other reviewers.”
Smith said that like McBee, consumers tend to look at the reviews overall and not determine favorability on just one particular reviewer’s opinion.
“I always am cautious and aware that everyone has an ‘off’ day- which can explain 1-2 bad reviews out of 10-15 positive,” McBee wrote.
Business review websites, like Yelp, allow business owners to create an account and reply to customers who post reviews about them. That can be an important tactic in addressing negative comments, Smith said.
“If consumers have a bad experience and the marketer [business]makes it up to them, they may actually end up more satisfied than if nothing ever happened. Businesses should pay attention to reviews closely, take them seriously and address any expressed shortcomings,” Smith said. “Those reviews are trusted by consumers, and they are available to the mass public.”
Back on Facebook, Tabitha Mathes wrote, “I feel that yelp & yahoo review sites are for the most part accurate. The business being reviewed can post a response to a review which is helpful as well.”
But not all business owners are in tune with or concerned about online review sites.
Texas Pie Company owner, Spencer Thomas, said every now and then he has a customer stop by after reading about his business on Yelp or Trip Advisor. He said both websites have notified him that his business has and gets good reviews.
“It’s hard for me to quantify how it affects my business, except that it gives me more of a web presence, and that’s what everybody does nowadays,” he said.
And despite reviewers like Jim O. from Austin that said on Yelp, “is there a better place for pie in Central Texas? I don’t think so. The people are warm and friendly and the lunch menu is varied and good. But hey it’s worth the trip just for the pie!” Spencer feels traditional word of mouth is still the best business referral — that and his attention-grabbing signage.
Smith advises that if reviews are largely positive, a business may want to incorporate that into its marketing strategy.
She also cautioned against the opportunity for some businesses to pad their reviews. Apartment complexes are “notorious” for that, she said. If a business only has a handful of reviews, consumers can question their credibility.
“The more reviews, the more credible,” Smith said.
Kyle has its own business review forum on Facebook: business reviews in Kyle, Texas. Although that page is a closed forum where only members can view posts, interested parties can request to join the group.
“I love the business reviews in Kyle FB page!” Cara Cantwell Mosier said on Facebook. “I like Yelp too. I’ve given reviews on both sites and visited (and avoided) businesses based on reviews from both sites.”