7 Ways COVID-19 Has Impacted Local Search and Customer Trends
Consumers have been searching for local businesses online long before COVID-19. But ever since the pandemic, more and more consumers are turning to local search to make decisions about local businesses. 83% of U.S. shoppers admitted the pandemic has changed the way they shop. As marketers look to increase customer acquisition now that businesses are starting to fully reopen, it’s important to understand how COVID-19 has impacted local search.
#1 – Increased Hybrid Shopping Habits
One of the most noticeable ways COVID-19 has impacted local search isn’t found in what consumers are shopping for, but how they plan to shop. Cars are being bought online, groceries delivered, and curbside pickup spots now take up an entire row of the parking lot. The pandemic has led to a rise in the search for hybrid shopping options. Consumers want to be able to have the ease of shopping online with the convenience of local pickup or delivery.
In 2020 we saw around 10% of cars being sold online compared to just 1% in 2018. This led to a shift in the car buying process where pricing and negotiating can be handled online, dealerships are delivering cars upon purchase, and test drives last 24 hours or longer at times. Consumer behavior shifts like this create new search habits online. Online searches with local intent are expanding from things like “grocery store near me” to “grocery delivery near me” or “grocery curbside pickup”. In fact, 50% of U.S. shoppers said they might continue to use curbside pickup even when the pandemic is over.
Brands that optimize for these new ways of shopping will be able to better capture consumers wanting both an online and local experience. Implementing keyword tracking and listing optimization tools can help brands identify what consumers are searching for and how they can use this information to optimize for local search.
#2 – Moment of Need Shopping Created Opportunity For Savvy Brands
According to ThinkWithGoogle “Searches for “who has” and “in stock” were up over 8,000% year over year in the U.S.” In March 2020, when consumer panic was at its peak, many retailers found themselves running out of supply. For several brands, this created an opportunity to introduce themselves to new customers by appealing to them in their moment of need.
Alcohol brands saw an opportunity by creating hand sanitizer, restaurant brands started curating “grocery boxes”, and healthcare organizations increased virtual visit options. With increased safety concerns and limited options available, consumers became more open to giving new brands a try.
Reaching these customers was only possible by optimizing for local search. Utilizing features like Google Shopping, Google Posts, and Google Q&A are quick and easy ways for brands to provide information about current inventory whether it’s showcasing a new item or something back in stock.
#3 – Brands Need a Holistic Approach to Digital Marketing
Consumers are spending more time online today than ever before. For digital marketers, this means that the competition for online ad space is more competitive than ever. COVID-19 led to a 51% increase in social media usage and a 50-70% increase in internet usage during the first few months of the pandemic. If brands want to reach consumers they need to be everywhere; social media, search, maps, YouTube, email, etc. The past year has increased the digital literacy of every consumer which means brands need to do a lot more to make an impact and get consumers to take action.
Using software like Chatmeter can help bring all of your local marketing efforts into a single platform. Whether you’re managing local listings, pages, reviews, social media, or other local SEO efforts, Chatmeter brings it all into a single easy to use dashboard with customizable reports, competitor monitoring, and workflow management to give brands and agencies a better way to manage their organic marketing strategy.
#4 – Customer Data Is More Essential Than Ever
When the pandemic hit, many brands began launching new omnichannel experiences such as delivery, BOPIS, mobile apps, contactless payments, and more. Unfortunately, the rush to implement new digital solutions created a lot of friction in the customer experience. Brands that monitored customer feedback and data were able to validate these new strategies and course-correct if needed. Tools like Chatmeter’s Pulse helped brands to identify outliers in customer reviews and quickly adjust if needed. As brands look to operate in a post-pandemic reality, uncovering how customers really feel about changes to the customer experience will be critical.
Additionally, changes to consumer privacy laws mean that first-party data will become more valuable than ever before. Many brands are racing to collect customer information before they are no longer able to leverage third-party cookies. Mining this data and understanding target customer search habits is only going to get harder over the next few years.
#5 – Shopping Local is Trending
There has been a 20,000% increase in searches for “support local businesses” year over year globally. Let that sink in… 20,000% increase! The pandemic reopened our eyes to how important supporting local businesses and local communities are. Local businesses can optimize for these types of searches by reaching out to local newspapers or community organizations to get featured on local business lists. Black-owned, women-led, or veteran-led businesses can also leverage Google My Business attributes to highlight this right on their Google My Business profile.
#6 – Consumers Are Searching For Brands Who Do Good
In addition to shopping at local businesses, consumers are looking to spend their money with brands that do good. In addition to a global pandemic, things like the ongoing movement for racial equity and increasing awareness of global warming have led consumers to look for brands that are part of the solution. 80% of Americans want to support brands that have taken action to help communities impacted by COVID-19 and 65% believe brands should be committed to improving society.
Consumers want to hear about brands that are doing good, which is why it’s important to share these stories on social media and other media outlets. Keep in mind, multi-location businesses can share community outreach efforts on both local and national social accounts to reach more people and encourage customers to get involved as well.
#7 – Brands Must Stay Agile
If there’s anything we learned from the past year, it’s that brands need to stay agile in order to succeed. Brands that can pivot quickly and learn on the fly will be able to better keep up with changing consumer expectations. When businesses do make changes, it’s important they communicate these changes with customers clearly and quickly. Keeping information up-to-date on local business listings, local pages, social media accounts helps to set consumer expectations.
The pandemic has made a lasting impact on how consumers interact with businesses. Every point along the customer journey has been disrupted, starting with an online search. Local businesses need to do everything they can to optimize for changes in local search. If you’re a marketing agency looking to help your clients increase their local search presence, or a multi-location brand looking to expand your reach schedule a time to speak with one of our local search experts today.Book a Chatmeter Demo