I have 5.5 hours to kill as I am winging my way to the East Coast from San Diego this morning. With the majority of my work “to dos” complete (save this blog), I can spend the final hour or so surfing a bit — researching NYC restaurants for an upcoming trip and getting a jump-start on holiday gift ideas.

Where to start? After first consulting my foodie friends, Open Table and Zagat’s are my go to for restaurant recommendations and reviews. I tend to check Amazon for miscellaneous/oddball items, reference Consumer Reports for big-ticket items and I peruse Trip Advisor for travel related stuff. Whew, how did I ever make an educated decision back in the old days?

But reviews are important, especially to small businesses. How important are they? Quite. In a recent survey conducted by Ask Your Target Market, 50% of respondents say that before making a purchase, they check online reviews “always” or “most of the time.” Another 25% do so about half the time. 16 rarely check online reviews, and only 10% never do. That’s a lot of eyeballs looking for five-stars.

Not surprisingly Amazon is the most popular site for online reviews (45%) with other favorable sites being Google, Yelp and Facebook. But do these reviews really affect purchase decisions? Yes they do. Citing the same survey, about 75% of consumers say online reviews are important to them though the weight given to them depends on what is being sold. The importance of reviews for technology/tech gadgets comes in high at 70%. 46% regularly read reviews for home items; 40% for restaurants, hotels or travel-related businesses; 35% read reviews before purchasing clothing or accessories; and 23% read reviews for local retail stores. Again, that’s a lot of eyeballs looking for five-star reviews, likes and high-praises.

So how can a company encourage customers/consumers to write a review? Here are several tips to jump start the process and get those reviews rolling in.

  • Make it easy: Set up review sites relevant to your business. The first thing we did with our restaurant client was to add Open Table, Yelp, FB and Twitter icons to their website homepage making it easy peasy for customers to click over and like, follow and review.
  • Make it easier: Don’t forget any collateral that may get eyeballs should have social media links. Add a simple “Let us know what you think.” to receipts, take out boxes, business cards, door windows decals, etc.
  • Make it easiest: Just ask. Send a timely note directly to your customers asking for an honest review. Our game client does this through Amazon and I think it’s brilliant. And don’t worry, most people leave a positive review, very few leave a very negative review.
  • Finally: It’s a two way street so make sure to respond to both positive and negative reviews. Even if it’s just a simple thank you, a response will go a long way to building a strong customer base and good business practice.

Time to turn-off all electronic devices. Though we are arriving a bit late, on this flight I had legroom, a power outlet, an empty middle seat and great flight attendants – I give it 4.5 stars.