For years, local businesses have been told that customer reviews sites like Yelp can make or break them, but is that still the case?

According to Scott Tzu of Orange Peel Investments, some local business owners are starting to doubt Yelp's sway:

...many restaurant owners that we have spoken to over the last six months to a year have reiterated their lax attitude on Yelp reviews to us.

The potential anonymity of Yelp and its use as a punching bag for hated figures in the media has given owners and customers alike a healthy dose of skepticism when approaching reviews on any particular restaurant.

Tzu continues...

Formerly, Yelp was in a position of power because restaurants would pay it to be able to manage its page, and restaurateurs were extremely interested in the reviews they got and maintaining high ratings. Yelp was the go-to spot on the web to try and get a heads up on a dining establishment.

Now, customers share some of the same doubts that owners share...

As the market matures, consumer behaviors change

While some data supports Tzu's argument that "Yelp is beyond its prime years already," that might be due to growing competition in the space from other players, including Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor.

On the whole, more consumers are now turning to online reviews more than ever before.

But their behavior is also changing. According to BrightLocal's 2015 Local Consumer Review Survey, "Consumers appear to be forming an opinion faster now than ever before."

40% of consumers will trust a local business after reading just one to three reviews, and 90% of consumers are ready to make a decision after reading 10 positive reviews.

At the same time, consumers are becoming a tad more skeptical. The vast majority are willing to trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, but only if the reviews are thought to be authentic.

This increased skepticism is not surprising given the rise of fake reviews.

Strength in numbers

Also not surprising is the fact that consumers rely more heavily on star ratings than they do on specific reviews. The implication for businesses: unreasonable reviews from disgruntled customers probably don't require the legal calvary.

As long as a business is maintaining good ratings on the whole, consumers are probably going to ignore the review by the person who gave a one-star rating because a restaurant didn't provide free bread.

Some businesses are even having fun with complaints, incorporating them into marketing campaigns, menus and the like.

Put simply, now that online reviews are ubiquitous, the name of the game for most local businesses is to encourage more positive online feedback and gain a critical mass of reviews (and ratings) so that the negative reviews are just noise.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 May, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2591 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (1)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

My wife runs a local business and she still gets annoyed when a customer places an unfair review. So yes they are important. But facebook is the one that matters, not yelp.

almost 2 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.