THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON BRAND REPUTATION

ABOUT THE REPORT

The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of millions of people across the globe. In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, many regions decided to close down businesses and issue “stay-at-home” orders. Although these life-saving measures were important, it did create confusion and panic for consumers and businesses alike. This report takes a look at how the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the online reputation of brands across the U.S. and Canada and how this insight can be leveraged to strengthen reopening strategies for all businesses. 

This report analyzes over 120,000 locations across dozens of industries. In addition to analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on all industries, we dive into four heavily impacted industries to identify specific trends related to retail, food services, local services, and healthcare industries. This report takes a look at data from January 1, 2020 – June 1, 2020. Georgia was the first state to lift “stay-at-home” orders and begin the reopening process on April 30th. The last month of data in this report gives us insight into how brands are recovering from the impact of COVID-19 and the long road ahead of us. 

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KEY FINDINGS

THE OVERALL IMPACT OF COVID-19 ACROSS ALL INDUSTRIES

During the Coronavirus pandemic, several cities and states across the country issued “stay-at-home” orders that impacted brick-and-mortar businesses nationwide. Here’s a look at how those orders affected the online visibility and reputation of local businesses during the start of the pandemic and what this means as more businesses reopen.

LOCAL BUSINESS LISTINGS

The Coronavirus pandemic hit businesses hardest in the months of March and April. Starting in March, we can see driving directions decrease drastically dropping 15.57% month over month from February. In April, businesses lost in-store foot traffic as driving directions fell 44.86% from March to April. 

On the other hand, we see phone calls being made to businesses increase by 55.95% from February to March. Shortly after, website visits increased by 12.19% in April as brick-and-mortar businesses quickly implemented online ordering and other omnichannel services.

In order to keep up with changes in business hours, temporary closures, and new service features, brands turned to their local business listings to keep the public informed on new changes. During the Coronavirus pandemic, businesses made over 3.2x the number of changes to their local listings per month than average. On both March 23rd and April 3rd, Chatmeter’s local listing management team made 50,000 changes in a single day. This rapid influx in listing changes show the importance of local listing management for all businesses during a crisis.

BRAND REPUTATION

All industries experienced a large decrease in review volume during the months of March and April, dropping 32.64% and 59.83% respectively. Additionally, brands saw a 75% drop in reviews year-over-year in the month of April. This decrease not only reflects the decrease in foot traffic to brick-and-mortars during “stay-at-home” orders, but it also reveals the power of Google My Business reviews.  On March 20th, Google My Business made the decision to temporarily disable reviews. This decision was made in an effort to protect brands from receiving negative reviews regarding situations out of their control. The ability to leave a review was not restored until April 10th. During this time is when we saw the largest drop in review volume, showcasing just how many reviews are left on Google monthly.

Using Chatmeter’s text and sentiment analysis tool, Pulse, we were able to analyze the volume and rating of reviews mentioning Coronavirus (or variations of the name). One notable finding was that as time went on and mentions of the virus became more common, the review rating also increased. As more people became comfortable with changes in business policies due to COVID-19, the reviews left about the subject leaned more positive than negative.

During the pandemic, we saw most businesses decrease in star rating, dropping .27 stars from March to April. For reference, in 2019, the average overall star rating fluctuated by .16 stars throughout the course of the entire year. A .27 drop in stars in a single month is unprecedented for most multi-location brands. By May, many brands saw an increase in rating but only by an average of .13 stars. This slow increase in average rating may be predictive of the long road ahead for businesses as they work to bring in foot traffic amid ongoing Coronavirus concerns.

According to Chatmeter data, the average response rate for brands dropped by 10% from March to April. Since many brands had to temporarily close during this time, it comes as no surprise that the review response rate would drop. Responding to reviews is one of the best ways to earn more positive reviews and ultimately increase local rankings. Brands who take advantage of the low review volume during this time to improve their response rate, may have a better chance of rebuilding their online presence.

When we look at all reviews earned from the months of January to May, we see that people became more and more frustrated with businesses as the pandemic went on. From January to March, the average negative sentiment found in reviews was around 13.5% and by April and May the average negative sentiment increased to 19.8%. A 6% increase in negative sentiment is concerning for any brand looking to maintain a strong online reputation.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REOPENING

No matter what stage of reopening businesses are in, one thing remains the same, the customer experience as we remember it doesn’t exist. Every business is facing a “new normal” and it’s more important than ever that businesses work to protect their reputation during this time in order to bring back customers. Our recommendation is to focus on the following three areas in order to build a stronger reputation as brick-and-mortar brands continue to reopen.

LEVERAGE LOCAL SEO TO DRIVE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION

Of the 3.5 million searches made on Google daily, 46% of them are looking for local information. This is why Local SEO is the key to customer acquisition for brick-and-mortar businesses. Right now, consumers are nervous about visiting your business in-person. Alleviate their concerns by providing them with convenient, quick, and accurate information about visiting your locations. 

Listings Management

One of the best ways to reach customers and keep them informed of your business information is through local business listing management. Keeping your listings on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and other major directories up-to-date is essential for customer acquisition. Accurate listing information such as business hours, website, phone numbers, and even new COVID-19 warnings all help to build trust with your customers. 

Local Pages

The country is reopening (and closing again) at different rates, multi-location brands need to provide a single source of truth on their websites for operating policies and hours for every location. Local store pages are the perfect place to display this information. Share need-to-know information about new policies, safety measures, and other details about each location on its own page. 

Voice Engine Optimization

Brands who prioritize keeping their listings and local pages updated during this time may find that it leads to increased local rankings. Higher rankings, not only give you a competitive edge, but they can help you optimize for voice search. When more and more consumers are leveraging contactless technology to avoid germs, voice search is on the rise.  A Voice Engine Optimization (VEO) strategy aligns closely with a local SEO strategy. By turning that information on your local pages into your FAQs, you can optimize your website for featured snippets, the most commonly used source for answers on Google Assistants. 

REBUILD YOUR REPUTATION TO RETAIN CUSTOMERS 

As seen in the report, nearly every brand was impacted when it came to their reputation during the first months of COVID-19. Increasing your star rating is not a quick and easy process, it takes time and dedication but even a .1 star increase can improve customer conversion by 25%. Reputation doesn’t just lie in star ratings, consumers take into consideration all interactions with a brand from the in-store experience to their social media presence to decide how they feel about a brand. Brands can turn to reviews and social media to help build back up their local reputation and retain their customer base through the pandemic. 

Review Management

In May,  the average review response rate for all brands in this report was 43.55%. Brands looking to build back up their star rating during this time, need to improve their response rate. 53% of consumers believe reviews should be responded to within an hour. Not to mention that consumers find businesses that respond to reviews are 1.7x more trustworthy than those who don’t. Responding to all of your reviews within a reasonable time is not possible without the use of review management tools to help brands respond to reviews in bulk, leverage the use of templates, and receive real-time review alerts. 

Reviews also provide powerful insight into the customer experience. Monitoring reviews can help brands make operational changes with confidence. Take this one step further by leveraging sentiment and text analytics tools, like Chatmeter’s Pulse, to identify common topics and the sentiment associated with them throughout reviews. 

Social Media

In March, Facebook saw a 70% increase in usage, while news consumption through social media rose 9% from the beginning of the year to April. The rise in social media usage during the pandemic makes it the optimal place for brands to stay engaged with their customers and entice them to visit once reopened. Brands who provide their fans with helpful information during reopening such as a look at new operational changes or a guide to new safety protocols can put their customer concerns about visiting in-person at ease. 

IT’S TIME TO REDEFINE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Let’s face it, the customer experience, as we knew it before the pandemic, will never be the same. New safety protocols, ongoing changes to business hours, and other operational limitations will impact the customer experience for every business. As brands reopen, they need to be thinking about new ways to redefine what a great customer experience looks like. 

Safety Measures

First things first, all brands need to implement and stick to safety measures according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. Having proper signage throughout your locations will help to advise customers on the steps you’re taking to keep everyone safe. It’s also important that these safety measures are communicated and understood by employees as they are on the frontlines of the customer experience. 

Omnichannel & Contactless Experiences

Many brands had to expand their omnichannel strategy during the pandemic. New omnichannel experiences such as curbside pickup, mobile ordering, BOPIS, and more were implemented by many brands for the first time. Leveraging contactless technology and experiences helps people to feel more comfortable doing business with your brand during a pandemic. Now is the time for brands to evaluate these new experiences and improve upon them in order to build a better customer experience that encourages customers to return. 

Living through a pandemic is new for all of us and there is no telling when businesses may return to normalcy, if ever. Fortunately, we’re all going through this together and by looking back at how the pandemic has changed the way we do business, we can plan for a better and stronger reopening. To learn more about how Chatmeter can help make the reopening process easier, schedule a time to speak with one of our experts.

EXPLORE MORE COVID-19 INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

Retail Industry
Food Services
LOCAL SERVICES
Healthcare

METHODOLOGY

In this analysis, we examine data from January through May 2019 and 2020 to identify and measure the impact of the pandemic. The sample size of the analysis is 122,193‌ locations from multi-location brands in the US and Canada, that are currently managed within the Chatmeter platform.

Industries Analyzed:

In this report, we analyzed brands from various industries including retail, healthcare, financial services, local services, real estate, multi-family, hospitality, food services, automotive, and several other smaller industries. Beyond our analysis for all industries, we dove deeper into the following four industries:

  • Food Services – 27% of locations 
  • Healthcare – 6% of locations
  • Retail – 12% of locations 
  • Local Services – 3% of locations 

Not all verticals revealed trends related to COVID, so in this report, we’ll focus on the verticals that reveal discrepancies from pre-COVID norms. Automotive (30% of locations) and multi-family (13% of locations) are not included because of this reason. 

Gathering The Data:

  • Review insights are compiled from Google, Yelp, and Facebook publishers only. 
  • Listings and GMB insights compiled from Chatmeter Local Listing Management customers (32% of all locations).
  • Data pulled as of June 1st, 2020.

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