Why the Convenience Store Industry Needs to Engage With Local Reviews
Reviews and review responses translate to real-world business success.
Damian Rollison, SOCi
As we all know, modern technology changes consumer expectations at a rapid pace. Online reviews of local businesses, once perceived to be mainly important for choosing a restaurant or a hotel, are now common for businesses of all kinds. Consumers use reviews for making just about all online and local purchase decisions, with 77 percent of consumers reporting that they are reading more reviews than ever before.
Reviews on sites like Google and Yelp offer an invaluable forum for customers to describe their experiences with a business and for businesses to respond to those consumers, building loyalty with fans and addressing the concerns of detractors.
What's more, reviews are a ready source of consumer insights, helping businesses understand what they're doing well and highlighting issues with customer service, pricing, product availability and store operations that can lead to productive changes that improve customer satisfaction.
Convenience Stores & Local Reviews
Convenience stores are a good example of an industry that has, for the most part, disregarded local reviews in the past. The same is true for large retail chains, discount stores and fast-food restaurants.
In these highly commodified industries, the conventional wisdom holds that brands must duke it out with competitors on price, loyalty or deals and promotions. This fact creates a greenfield advantage for convenience brands to stand out by doubling down on the customer experience.
Research we've done at SOCi confirms that convenience stores are falling behind in the local reputation race. The gas and convenience category generates a surprising number of reviews, placing sixth among the 18 industries we analyzed, behind more obvious review categories like department stores, restaurants and hotels.
And yet in the group of convenience store locations we looked at, none were responding to their reviews. We found the same to be true in categories such as pharmacies and discount stores, but overall, 13 out of 18 industries — some 72 percent — were at least responding to some reviews.
Now that review management has taken hold in 72 percent of U.S. multilocation industries, it's time for convenience stores to take the opportunity seriously.
Where to Begin
The benefits of reviews and review responses do not only relate to making consumers feel good about your business; they translate to real-world business success.
For example, our research shows that for every 0.1 star increase in the average rating of a business on Google, conversion of that Google listing improves by 4.4 percent, meaning that improvement by a full star will make your listings convert 44 percent more often. (We define "conversion" as the rate at which consumers call you, request directions to your location or click through to your website after seeing your listing online.)
Similarly, earning more reviews helps your bottom line. For every 10 new reviews a business earns, conversion improves by 2.8 percent.
One of the most important things you can do to earn more reviews and improve your rating is to respond to reviews. Consumers value feedback at the local listing level. It makes them feel they are being listened to, whether their comments are praiseworthy or critical.
Brands that engage with their customers locally tend to be rewarded for doing so. In fact, merely responding to reviews is shown in our research to make your listings more likely to convert. A business that responds to 100 percent of its reviews on Google will convert searchers to buyers 16.4 percent more often than a business that ignores its reviews.
Given the lack of adoption of these practices in the convenience store industry to date, those who are early to market will likely gain even greater advantages than are cited here.
Once daunting, the task of managing reviews at scale for larger national and regional brands has been made much more manageable in recent years with the advent of review management platforms. Convenience stores and similar industries now have the tools they need to meet modern consumer expectations for personalized experiences of all kinds, including engagement with reviews.
Damian Rollison is director of market insights for SOCi. With more than a decade of local search experiences, he has focused his career on discovering innovative ways to help businesses large and small get noticed online. For more information, visit meetsoci.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.