SOCi Report: Brand Loyalty Affected by Online Inaccuracies

Inaccurate business listings can  have a substantial impact on brand loyalty, according to the first release of SOCi Inc.'s  2024 Consumer Behavior Index (CBI), which examines shopper practices and preferences when interacting on and offline with local businesses, including restaurants.

Nearly two-in-three (63 percent) have encountered inaccuracies in business listings on major platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Instagram. These errors prompted nearly half (47 percent) of all respondents to “break-up” with a business that shares inaccurate online information, opting instead for a competitor.

“As in any good relationship, consumers expect honesty and reliability when they seek out businesses online,” said Damian Rollison, Director of Market Insights at SOCi. “Missteps in accuracy can quickly turn love to loss, with potential for long-term fallout. Just as no one wants to be catfished by a fake dating profile, consumers don't want to be misled by inaccurate business information. Ensuring your online profile is as trustworthy as it is discoverable is crucial.”

One result of the pandemic is that consumers have increased the amount of time they spend online and are spending more time researching businesses online before engaging offline. With new features for businesses, consumers expect to research, weigh options, and make appointments online first. In fact, 91 percent of respondents start their journey to an offline purchase online, mirroring how relationships often begin digitally.

Among the findings:

  • One third (32 percent) of consumers polled said they search for local businesses every day or multiple times a day.
  • In terms of where they are searching, respondents mostly find brands’ online profiles on mobile apps like Google Maps (51 percent) and Facebook (49 percent) to be helpful and informative. However, Google Search remains ominant at 72 percent among consumers.
  • Additionally, 66 percent prefer to search for information on their smartphones.
  • The study also shows that 84 percent of consumers find new products, services, and businesses online through social feeds, search results, or recommendations. The most common searches are for restaurants (56 percent), followed by retail stores and grocery stores (42 percent each), medical facilities (28 percent), gas stations and hotels (21 percent each), and movie theaters and banks (20 percent each).

“In the complicated relationship between consumers and brands, brands need to ensure that every digital touchpoint counts and makes a positive impression,” said Rollison. "Our data highlights the necessity for businesses to have accurate and optimized online profiles to meet consumer search behaviors, whether by brand name or category.”

Brands still stuck in the past and not optimizing their online profiles may lose out on significant market share.

When considering a visit or contact with a local brand, consumers have clear preferences, much like they do when swiping through potential matches. Quality (62 percent), cost (61 percent), and the accuracy of data (59 percent) top the list of priorities. These were followed by proximity (49 percent), speed of service (49 percent), and brand reputation (46 percent).

“Online profiles for businesses used to be a lot simpler than they are today,” said Rollison. “Now, they include online booking information, online ordering, reviews and Q&As to provide customers with a richer experience. Consumers have become accustomed to having these conveniences right at their fingertips. Brands still stuck in the past and not optimizing their online profiles may lose out on significant market share.”

To learn more about the survey results,  Rollison answered questions from Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine.

What should restaurant owners take away from the results?

Restaurant owners should recognize the critical value of accurate online information. As the survey suggests, inaccuracies can significantly impact customer trust and loyalty. It’s vital for restaurants to ensure their online profiles are updated and reflect the true nature of their business, including up-to-date menus, accurate operating hours, and current contact information. This attention to detail in their digital presence can prevent customer frustration and loss to competitors.

Were there any surprising results?

One surprising aspect was the extent to which online inaccuracies lead to customer loss. The fact that nearly half of the consumers surveyed would switch to a competitor due to errors in online listings underscores the high stakes for restaurants in maintaining accurate digital profiles. It’s a wake-up call for the industry to prioritize digital accuracy as much as the quality of food and service. Note that this matters most on a few key platforms that consumers favor for local information, such as Facebook, Yelp, and especially Google. 

How important is a restaurant’s online presence and what can they do to improve it?

A restaurant’s online presence is now as crucial as its physical one. Sometimes online profiles are referred to as the “digital storefront” for a business, and it is health to think of profiles in this way. To enhance online presence, restaurants should regularly audit and update their digital listings across all popular platforms. They need to ensure that all information is current and reflects any changes, like new menu items or adjusted hours. Engaging with customers through reviews, photos, and Q&A on these platforms is also essential. Doing so not only shows responsiveness but also helps in rectifying any misinformation that might be circulating.

What are some best practices restaurants should follow?

Restaurants should constantly update their online profiles for accuracy, especially during holidays or special events when operating hours may change. Regularly checking and responding to online reviews and customer queries is also important. According to SOCi’s Local Visibility Index, while restaurants outperform the average business by answering 11 percent of the questions consumers ask in the Q&A section of Google profiles, they still leave 89 percent of questions unanswered. This type of “ghosting” contributes to an estimated loss of $15B in revenue for restaurants each year. 

Establishing a routine for updating digital information can prevent many of these issues. Additionally, training staff to understand the importance of accurate online data and enabling them with the right tools can help avoid the pitfalls of ghosting customers.

In what ways have guest preferences changed regarding online errors and sourcing information?

Guests today have higher expectations for online availability and accuracy. They rely heavily on digital information to make dining decisions. Any discrepancy – like outdated menu items or incorrect hours – can lead to frustration and a loss of trust. The convenience of finding information online has shifted guest preferences toward businesses that provide reliable and timely details. Customers are also considering reviews, photos, and Q&A on restaurants’ online profiles, so it’s important that restaurants stay engaged and responsive, which builds trust and enhances the overall customer experience.

The Consumer Behavior Index includes a sample of 1,002 consumers in the U.S. respondents were equally distributed across the country.   “Local” businesses refers to any commercial entities in close proximity, ranging from independent “mom and pop” stores to nationally recognized chains with local outlets.