Today, we’ll be learning more about customer preferences by age group surrounding local business reviews, taking a deeper dive into some of the data from The Impact of Local Business Reviews on Consumer Behavior | SEO Industry Report. In our initial report, we covered the leading characteristics of customers as a whole, but here, we’ll surface some intriguing differences that appeared when we segmented survey responses by age.
I want to preface this by stating that age discrimination of every kind is unacceptable. I’m not a fan of the fight over crumbs that underlies divisive and disrespectful slogans involving “okays” and “boomers” or “millennials” and “avocado toast”. Particularly in the US, these types of groupings only serve to divide and dishonor friends, family, and neighbors. Instead, let’s look with respect at the preferences of local business customers when it comes to reading and writing reviews so that we can operate and market local brands to suit the needs and tastes of lots of people in our communities. Honoring everyone is the best basis for great customer service.
Similar review habits and preferences
Breaking down the survey by age groups of 18-29, 30-60, and 61+, we saw more commonalities than differences in behaviors and preferences surrounding reviews. For example:
About ⅓ of all three groups say their commonest habit is to read reviews on a weekly basis
A little over ½ of all three groups say reviews are somewhat important in the process of deciding whether a business can be trusted
About ½ of all three groups visit the business website as their next step after reading enough positive reviews of a brand, about ⅓ of the youngest and eldest groups say their next step is to visit the business in person, with a ¼ of the middle group doing the same.
Over ½ of all three groups will definitely seek out a business if its owner responses to reviews resolve stated problems, with the two older groups being slightly more willing to do so than the youngest group.
About ½ of all three groups require a minimum 4 star rating to consider doing business with a local brand, with the eldest group having slightly higher expectations than the two younger groups.
About ⅓ of all three groups say they will “sometimes” leave a review when asked to do so.
Different review habits and preferences by age group
For the purposes of this column, Group A is people aged 18-29, Group B is people aged 30-60, and Group C is people aged 61+.
1. Older Americans write fewer reviews
When asked how often they write reviews, about ¼ of Groups A and B say they only write reviews a few times a year. Most of them are more active review writers than this. However, 43% of Group C falls into the category of only writing reviews a few times a year. Brands may have to work harder to build up their online reputation if their model relies heavily on the patronage of older customers.
2. Older Americans are less tied to Google reviews
A little over 80% of both Groups A and B say they spend the majority of their time reading local business reviews on Google. Interestingly, that number drops to just 62% for Group C, with older Americans having more diverse reading habits that span platforms like the BBB, Yelp, Nextdoor, Facebook and first-party reviews on local business websites. Local brands that rely on the patronage of older customers should be sure to be managing reputation across a wide variety of platforms.
3. Younger Americans trust social media more as a source of local business reputation
When asked which sources, other than local business reviews, respondents rely on to understand local business reputation, a little over 60% of Groups A and B cite friends and family, while an even greater percentage (74%) turn to this resource. 61% of the youngest group relies on social media, a slightly smaller 57% of the middle group does so, but a significantly smaller 43% of the oldest group does so. Meanwhile, an identical 43% of Groups A and B consult the business’ own website as their next choice, but for Group C, 44% turn to the Better Business Bureau. Local brands should note here that younger Americans are skewed more towards social media information, while older Americans still place more trust on established platforms like the BBB.
4. Younger Americans prefer SMS-based review requests over print
About 1/2 of all three groups cite email as their #1 preference for receiving review requests and in-person requests come second for everybody. However, whereas the third choice for Groups A and B is SMS/text-based review asks, Group C prefers to be asked for reviews via receipts, invoices and other print materials. This is an important divide, and while I’ll say that, in my own experience, some of my elders text me more than my nieces and nephews, it’s clear that local brands must diversify their review acquisition methodologies to meet the different expectations of both groups.
5. Younger Americans need extra guidance with the review writing process
Let’s have fun squashing some stereotypes here! It may be a meme to depict young folks as tech-savvy and older folks as behind-the-tech-times, but here’s a lived truth from my own life: my father knows way more about computers than I ever will, and my mother is a much better searcher than I am.
In this data set, we see that the top reason our youngest group doesn’t leave more reviews is because they find the process too confusing and difficult. In other words, they likely require a little extra help and guidance in understanding how to conveniently and efficiently review your local business. Groups B and C already have the review-writing process well in hand, and say that their top blocker to writing more reviews is simply forgetting to do so when they have the free time. For these groups, reminders rather than tutorials are likely to be most effective.
6. The youngest Americans are feeling the burden of bad products
66% of Group B and 76% of Group C say that the top cause of them writing negative reviews is experiencing rude or bad service at a local business. I find it telling and poignant that older Americans have the highest expectations of being treated well by neighborhood companies and are severely let down when owners and staff are unpleasant. Some of us are old enough to remember when nearly all shops were abundantly staffed with well-trained employees who were earning enough of a living wage to have inner funds of contentment and happiness – it’s a far cry from the understaffed warehouses and automated chat bots that too often pass for customer service these days.
However, the data point that interested me most in this set is that our youngest group cites bad products as the top cause of them leaving negative reviews. Your mother-in-law may have had the same washing machine for the last 20 years, but your niece has already had to replace hers twice in the five years since she moved into an apartment with her friends. According to Statista, youngest people are also the poorest, and having to spend what little money they have on shoddy goods is a serious burden, especially when coupled with pandemic-driven supply chain breakages that have made most of us seek out products of indifferent quality because there is no other choice. Local brands should strongly consider overhauling supply chains wherever possible to find higher quality local products to avoid negative reviews and safeguard reputation in the eyes of the rising generation of consumers.
7. Youngest and eldest Americans have more modest expectations of review response times
15% of group B expects to receive an owner response to their review within 2 hours, compared to just 7% of group A and only 1% of group C. 23% of group B expects to hear back with 24 hours, while this figure is at 19% for group A and 18% for group C. 33% of group A expects a response within 24 hours, while 27% is the figure for both B and C. There’s an opportunity here to surpass expectations for all three groups by responding as quickly as possible to reviews, which means paying attention to incoming review alerts and finding time to respond.
8. Older Americans are more forgiving when problems are resolved
67% of group B and 61% of group C will definitely update a negative review and low star rating if an owners response resolves their complaints. This figure drops to just 50% for group A. Perhaps the more lived experience we have, the more aware we become of how easily mistakes happen, and the more readily we recognize and reward efforts to make amends.
9. Younger Americans read a greater number of reviews before deciding a business is worth a try
41% of group A read 10-20 reviews before determining a local business is worth trying, and a similar 37% of group B does the same. But the dominant characteristic of Group C is that 41% of them read just 5-9 reviews before making up their minds. This is open to many interpretations. Perhaps the more experienced we are, the more quickly we can scan a scenario and make a judgment. Or, perhaps the younger we are, the more we count on the process of reading lots of reviews to help us gauge public opinion before making our own decision. In any case, local businesses must be sure that there is plenty of reading material in the form of reviews from both of the younger groups.
10. Eldest Americans place the most trust in the public and the least in brand messaging
A pronounced 74% of group C says it places more trust in what customers say about a local business vs. what that business says about itself. For group A, that figure drops to 61% and group B comes in at 69%. Doubtless, the longer we live, the more experience teaches us the difference between reality and advertising, and it’s important to note that for more than 60% of all three groups, control of brand narrative is now firmly in customers’ hands. This is the best of all arguments for why customer service is the core of the business model – it writes the brand story that the majority of the public believes most.
11. Low stars shed the most trust for eldest Americans
Well over half of group C says that a low star rating compared to local competitors is the top source of lost trust when it comes to local business reviews. Groups A and B put the appearance of a business or its staff self-reviewing as their top cause of lost trust. This dynamic shows how trust can be lost at first glance for our eldest group because stars are immediately visible on review profiles, highlighting how important it is for the cumulative reviews to be speaking well of the business. Meanwhile, groups A and B are more investigative, looking more deeply at reviewers’ profiles for signs of suspicious activity. Brands must be sure to avoid all spammy practices that would rightly give these groups cause to doubt the authenticity of their reputation.
12. Youngest Americans are most put off by argumentative owner responses
When asked which factors of an owner response would make them avoid the business, the top element cited by Group A was the owner arguing with the customer. This highlights the need for deft, accountable responses, even when the business believes the customer is wrong. Meanwhile, about half of Group B cites failure of the owner response to fix a cited problem as the characteristic that would make them avoid a business, and nearly ¾ of Group C say the same. Clearly, the more life experience we have, the more we value brands that are great at solving problems that inevitably arise in the course of normal business operations.
13. Eldest Americans have the most motivation (and justification) for sharing their experience via reviews
They say that wisdom comes with age and I see a confirmation of this in the data that 85% of Group C’s primary motivation for writing reviews is to share their experience with others. For Group B, that number is 72%, and for Group A it is 69%. This puts me in mind of how Civics was a required high school class in my parents’ generation, but I seldom hear it spoken of by people of my age group, and I am not sure what part it plays in current school curriculum. Ideas like valuing the sagacity of elders and freely sharing knowledge for community benefit are excellent standards we should not lose. Local brands are extremely fortunate in having volunteers, both young and old, who are continuously speaking about them in every neighborhood across the country.
In conclusion: be sure everybody is sitting at your table
Some local offerings are geared towards specific age groups. For example, a senior community club has a particular audience, as does a pediatrician. If your customers and clients are entirely within a narrow age-range, pay particular attention to the review preference differences we saw in today’s column.
However, what will be more common is that a local business with a general audience will be looking at how to increase the engagement of further segments within their community which aren’t yet frequenting the brand. For example, a clothier might want both elder and younger shoppers to know their shop stocks a wide variety of garments for many ages and tastes. It’s in cases like these that knowledge of specific habits and preferences can get the brand closer to having meaningful interactions with a wider audience.
In the digital age, it turns out that your local business reputation is like a very large dining table, and by considering how each of your guests likes to be served, you’ll be sure there’s a seat for everybody. When it comes to age, diversity, equity, and inclusion make for better conversation and better community.
Eager for more insights? Read: The Impact of Local Business Reviews on Consumer Behavior