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Consumer behavior in the age of Coronavirus: global review trends by industry

Friday, May 22, 2020
Consumer Behavior in the Age of Coronavirus: Global Review Trends by Industry

The rise of coronavirus has stopped the entire world in its tracks, causing consumers across the globe to drastically change their purchasing behaviors — and leaving businesses with the challenge of trying to predict the future.

An in-depth investigation from Nielsen has uncovered a consumer behavior pattern that could help guide businesses through these unprecedented times, identifying six purchasing phases that stem from concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak (and naturally, the resulting newscycle): Proactive health-minded buying, reactive health management, pantry preparation, quarantined living preparation, restricted living, and living a new normal.

Though it’s clear that the situation is still evolving, the spending patterns tied to these phases hold up across markets the world over. But exactly how consumers are deciding who to buy from remains to be seen.

Here at Trustpilot, we believe we’re uniquely qualified to shed light on the role of reviews in purchasing behavior in this uncertain climate, so we took a deep dive into global consumer activity on Trustpilot’s review platform in the wake of the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

The data shared below was last refreshed on May 20th — we’ll be updating this data at least once per month, so go ahead and bookmark this page before we dive in.

What kinds of businesses are consumers researching right now?

While the types of businesses consumers were most interested in reading reviews about varied by region over the last 30 days, one thing holds true around the world: consumers are very interested in the experiences of their peers right now.

According to a survey of more than 1700 respondents conducted on the Trustpilot consumer website at the end of March 2020:

  • 33.6% of consumers report checking reviews of businesses and services more frequently than they did before lockdown
  • 73% of consumers want to see how companies are handling the virus
  • 23% of consumers report decreased trust in companies since the outbreak
  • 55% of consumers are more worried about online scams than they were prior to the pandemic

There are plenty of reasons that credible reviews are important to consumers in uncertain times — from a stronger urge to see what fellow consumers are buying in an unprecedented situation, to more skepticism towards unfamiliar businesses, who consumers could perceive as unscrupulous amid economic uncertainty. Perhaps they simply want to confirm that products or services work as advertised, whether it’s a matter of life or death or just adapting to a new lifestyle.

Without further adieu, here’s a breakdown of the trends we saw in global traffic to Trustpilot profile pages by industry from the end of February until now.

United Kingdom: 30-Day Traffic to Business Profiles on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

UK-Profile-Views-April-6

In the UK, traffic to Trustpilot profile pages remained relatively steady from February 23rd to March 24th, with insurance agencies and furniture stores receiving more consumer interest than other business categories. It’s possible that consumers felt an increased need to prepare for the unexpected — be it a medical emergency, or being asked to work from home for the foreseeable future, creating more demand for home office furniture.

Though it’s early to say how consumer spending on fashion will evolve in these uncertain times, interest in reviews for women’s clothing stores declined over this time period — at least in the UK.

And despite the obvious embargo on nonessential travel plans in the age of coronavirus, visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of travel agencies saw an upswing towards the end of March. It’s likely that consumers are hoping to adjust their immediate and far off travel plans, or have even heard speculation from industry leaders that life might be back to normal by the summer, and are sussing out whether anyone else is booking new travel plans.

Our data refresh on April 6th revealed that visits to insurance agency profile pages have been on the decline as we moved into the month of April, while visits to the profile pages of furniture stores, pharmacies, and fitness and nutrition services started to pick up speed as consumers settled into “quarantined living”.

As of our two most recent data refresh on April 23rd and May 20th, visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of furniture stores and garden centers are on the rise — most likely reflecting consumers' desire to better equip their homes and gardens for even more time spent at home.

United States: 30-Day Traffic to Business Profiles on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

April-6-US-Pageviews

In the US on the other hand, consumer interest on the Trustpilot platform spiked in early March for toiletries stores, aligning almost perfectly to an event that moved most consumers from “reactive health management” to “pantry preparation”: Trump’s February 26th press conference on COVID-19.

While a lot of the traffic to toiletries stores can be attributed to The Honey Pot’s profile at the beginning of March, it’s also possible that the surging interest in toiletry stores was brought on by the unprecedented demand for essential bathroom items and perhaps even looking for alternative sources of hand sanitizer and hand soap.

And by mid-March, traffic to Trustpilot profile pages for financial consultants spiked, likely resulting from increased concern about an economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus.

Our data download from April 6th shows that profile visits to banks spiked in tandem with financial consultants in mid-March, likely as consumers turned to Trustpilot to research their options as the economy struggled. Moving further into the month of April, visits to the profile pages of clothing stores, pharmacies, and toiletries stores remained steady.

Our 30-day data pulled from April 23rd shows that visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of clothing stores, financial consultants and pharmacies are on the rise. Perhaps US consumers are looking to clothing purchases as a way to boost morale, financial consultants to help prepare for economic uncertainty, and pharmacies to ensure their readiness for any changes in their health.

Interestingly, visits to the profile pages of online marketplaces saw an uptick around mid April, coinciding with many consumers' pay day and perhaps indicating consumer interest in supporting independent sellers over major brands during this uncertain time.

As of our latest data refresh on May 20th, clothing stores are continuing to receive the bulk of traffic, at least in the US.

Central Europe: 30-Day Traffic to Business Profiles on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

April-6-CEU-Pageviews

Unlike the United Kingdom, traffic to the Trustpilot profile pages of travel agencies from central Europe saw an understandable decline kicking off around the beginning of March, right after the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Europe spiked on February 28th.

And while it’s not necessarily surprising to see an upswing in consumer interest around gaming service providers with most of Europe quarantined at home since early March, it’s interesting that traffic to jewelry stores on the Trustpilot platform is on an incline. Perhaps novelty purchases like jewelry will remain an important part of “living a new normal” as far as consumer behavior goes.

Our refreshed data from April 6th showed that profile visits to gaming service providers spiked towards the end of March in Central Europe, with visits to cell phone store profiles picking up speed as we moved into April.

Our data pulled on April 23rd showed that visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of gaming service providers and cell phone stores remained steady. Similar to the United States, visits to the profile pages of online marketplaces saw an uptick around mid April in Central Europe, perhaps indicating consumer interest in supporting independent sellers over major brands during this uncertain time.

As of our latest download on March 20th, the Trustpilot profile pages of cell phone stores and online marketplaces continue to go strong — with the addition of shoe stores. As Europe transitions into life after lockdown, it stands to reason that consumers might want to equip themselves with new shoes for some much-needed summer adventures.

Australia and New Zealand: 30-Day Traffic to Business Profiles on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

April-6-ANZ-Pageviews

Despite placing restrictions on international travel back in February, and advising against non-essential domestic travel in late March, visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of travel agencies were consistently high from February 23rd to March 24th in Australia and New Zealand.

It’s likely that consumers anticipated changing their travel plans in light of these restrictions, and were eager to see how travel agencies had dealt with fellow travellers in the same situation.

Visits to the profile pages of travel agencies reached a peak in late March within Australia and New Zealand, and is starting to decline as we move into April.

Visits to hobby store and furniture store profile pages, however, saw an uptick at the beginning of April as consumers down under began to adjust to “quarantined living”.

As of our most recent data refresh on April 23rd, visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of clothing stores, furniture stores and hobby stores are on an incline in Australia and New Zealand. It's possible that consumers are looking to clothing purchases as a way to boost morale, and are investing more time and attention in equipping their homes with comfortable furnishings and leisure activities to do.

Similar to the United States and Central Europe, visits to the profile pages of online marketplaces saw an uptick around mid April in Australia and New Zealand, perhaps indicating consumer interest in supporting independent sellers over major brands during this uncertain time.

Our two most recent data downloads from April 23rd and May 20th showed that visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of clothing stores, furniture stores and hobby stores were on an incline in Australia and New Zealand. It's possible that consumers were looking to clothing purchases as a way to boost morale, and are investing more time and attention in equipping their homes with comfortable furnishings and leisure activities to do.

What kinds of businesses are customers leaving reviews for right now?

In the best of times, consumers tend to leave reviews for a few key reasons: in hopes of offering guidance to others like them, alerting businesses to issues with their products or services, or delivering constructive feedback about what they need from a business.

On top of the above reasons, now more than ever customers are likely to leave reviews to foster a sense of community in the midst of isolation, or to exercise the power of the consumer voice, whether that’s thanking a business for performing under immense strain or calling out those who might exploit the situation to the detriment of others.

Here’s a breakdown of the most reviewed business categories on Trustpilot in the wake of coronavirus.

United Kingdom: 30-Day Consumer Review Activity on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

apr6-UK-organic-reviews

In the UK, courier services, energy suppliers, utilities companies, furniture stores, and insurance companies received the most reviews from February 23rd to March 24th.

Travel agencies saw a spike in customer reviews towards the end of March, likely as customers wrote in to share their customer service experiences around COVID-19-related travel plan adjustments.

As of early April, courier services and gas companies were seeing the biggest spike in review activity in the UK. Meanwhile, review activity for energy suppliers, electric utility companies, insurance agencies, and furniture stores remained steady.

As of our two most recent data refresh on April 23rd and May 20th, courier services continue to receive the bulk of reviews left in the UK, with garden centers seeing an uptick in review activity towards the end of the month. Interestingly, pet stores saw a spike in review activity in the very first week of April.

United States: 30-Day Consumer Review Activity on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

apr6-US-organic-reviews

In the US, clothing stores, hobby stores, and travel agencies received the lion’s share of customer reviews amid coronavirus uncertainty from February 23rd to March 24th.

Moving into April, clothing stores and travel agencies saw declining review activity in the US, while reviews left for hobby stores, financial consultants, and furniture stores remained steady.

Our 30-day data refresh on April 23rd showed that visits to the Trustpilot profile pages of hobby stores received the bulk of review activity in the US, while clothing stores, financial consultants, and furniture stores saw an uptick in reviews towards the end of April.

As of May 20th, clothing stores and hobby stores continue to see the most review activity in the US with a noticeable spike in the first week of May — likely after consumers received some of the fashion and hobby items they purchased to help them make the most of their new lifestyle.

Central Europe: 30-Day Consumer Review Activity on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

apr6-CEU-organic-reviews

And in central Europe, courier services, cell phone stores, travel agencies, and gaming service providers received the bulk of the customer reviews left on Trustpilot from February 23rd to March 24th.

Interestingly, European consumers are more interested in writing reviews about courier services than they are in reading reviews about them in a time of crisis — at least for now.

From the beginning of April, courier services, cell phone stores, travel agencies, and gaming service providers received the bulk of reviews left on Trustpilot in central Europe.

As of our latest data pull on May 20th, courier services, cell phone stores, gaming service providers, and garden centers are seeing the most review activity in Central Europe.

Australia and New Zealand: 30-Day Consumer Review Activity on Trustpilot (April 20, 2020 - May 20, 2020)

apr6-ANZ-organic-reviews

Australia and New Zealand saw similar trends to the UK, with reviews left for travel agencies increasing in tandem with traffic to their profile pages, as customers wrote in to share their experiences with travel agencies in the wake of the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

Hobby stores received the second greatest number of customer reviews from February 23rd to March 24th, followed by clothing stores — reviews for which seem to be trending upwards, perhaps as consumers settle into their “new normal” and find themselves with more time to leave feedback.

By the beginning of April, reviews left for travel agencies were starting to decline in Australia and New Zealand, while reviews left for hobby stores and car accessories stores picked up speed in the region.

As of May 20th, hobby stores, travel agencies, and clothing stores are receiving the most review activity in Australia and New Zealand, as travel restrictions begin to ease up and consumers transition out of life under strict lockdown.

The value of reviews in uncertain times

From our perspective, the value of reviews is significant in times good or bad — and consumer activity on Trustpilot’s platform in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak echoes that sentiment. As it turns out, reviews can help businesses and consumers in equal measure in times of crisis and uncertainty.

For consumers, reviews provide reassuring transparency as a way to read about the real experiences of peers when it’s hard to know who to believe, and harder than usual to rely on a personal network. They also give consumers a voice, allowing them to thank businesses performing well under difficult times, or cry foul about a business exploiting the situation. Open review platforms are particularly valuable at times like these, because at their best, they can help foster a sense of community in a time of social isolation.

For businesses, reviews are a way for the customer experience heroes to shine. — through the voice of consumers, businesses that rise to the occasion can have their actions amplified to many other prospective customers. Reviews can also aid businesses in real-time understanding of customer needs. This can be especially valuable during rapid and unpredictable change, and can even help companies smoothly adapt to new channels and audiences.

In the worst of times, consumers want to engage with businesses who care, so now is the time to get closer to your customers and start showcasing your reputation.

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