Thursday 29 Sep 2011
My apologies to readers for my absence of the past couple weeks. I’ve been so occupied with copywriting elsewhere that I’ve had to be selective with my 10 busy little fingers, but I’ve really been looking forward to publishing this article.
If you are a local business owner or a Local SEO, you earnestly want to know exactly how a random consumer picks a single business he wants to patronize when Internet local search results provide 7 or more top options to choose from on page 1. What I have to offer you isn’t a survey taken of what consumers ‘feel’ they might or would do in a given situation. Rather, this is a real-world story about exactly how I personally chose to do business with one local tire shop after thoroughly investigating seven online profiles and phoning each one. I needed 4 new tires and needed to have them installed, and this small case study is my way of giving you a detailed look into the mind of a consumer.
The town in question has a population of approximately 55,000 people and I would estimate approximately 10-15 potential sources for purchasing tires if you do not count small auto garages that might order tires for you even if they don’t normally stock them.
For my query for ‘tire shop’ in the nearest town, Google returned me the older 7 pack-type results instead of the newer blended local/organic results. I investigated and contacted each of the businesses listed between A-G. I took notes on whether each business had a claimed or unclaimed Google Place Page, the number and nature of their Google-based reviews, what type of website they had and how well locally-optimized it was and what the best deal was that they could offer on a set of 40K tires. Finally, I jotted down my sentiments about how each phone call went. I would like to offer this comparison chart for your review:
Analysis Of These Local Business Statistics
Business A was strongly appealing with its lowest price, well-trained phone staff and trustworthy representation via a professional, if not locally-optimized website.
Business B was not appealing at all once I saw that they were charging $130 more for essentially the same tires. This is an identical type of a business model – a large franchise. Any local citizen researching prices is going to immediately see that Buisness A is offering a way better deal. I was also disheartened to see that this large corporation has not bothered to claim their Place Page in my town. They lack control of their listing and are more open to competitive attacks as a result of this. Not a good situation. And, finally, they didn’t make a strong positive impression on me on the phone. It was just so-so.
Business C offered me absolutely no sales pitch on the phone. I felt a little like I was interrupting them. When I saw that they had no website, I came away with an impression of a lack of effort. At a cost within $45 of Business A’s, if these folks had come across as offering some great incentive to choose them, I would have kept them in stronger consideration, but there was nothing about their phone rapport nor their online presence that said ‘choose us’.
Business D tugged at my locally-minded heartstrings by being family-owned and operated. I liked their phone staff member better than any of the others. They have claimed their Place Page and made some efforts with their small business website. But the price…$100 more for essentially the same set of tires 40k tires. I go out of my way to patronize local businesses. I will shop at a local farm stand over a chain grocery store 9 times out of 10. But tires don’t quite speak to me the way arugula does, and so looking at the price difference, this business went from making the most positive impression on me to being pretty iffy on my list. So, the lesson on this one is that pricing is really important when it comes to something as unsentimental as tires.
Business E fell right out of the mix the minute they didn’t answer the phone. There was some negative commentary in their reviews, their website was poor and…well, they didn’t answer the phone. If you are using your answering machine as your receptionist in an industry like this one, I can pretty much guarantee you are losing business.
Business F got an ‘f’ for Internet effort from me. Their Place Page was claimed but with zero reviews and zero website and zero sales pitch from the person who answered the phone I felt very…zero.
For Business G see my remarks about Business E because the end result was the same. No one to answer the phone, no one to do business with.
1. In my regular American town, 2 out of 7 tire shops have failed to claim their Google Place Page and 3 out of 7 are failing to be represented by any kind of website at all. Opportunities are definitely being neglected, looking at those statistics. The highest total number of Google reviews any local tire shop can boast of is 4. I know, it’s hard to get people excited about tire shops, but I bet not one of these seven businesses has implemented any plan for encouraging reviews. If just one of these shops had, say, 15 reviews, they would really stand out from the pack.
2. If you don’t answer the phone, you will lose business. I am busy, and am setting time aside to look for a good quote on tires. If you’re not there when I need you, you can bet I’ll move on to the next shop.
3. Because no one had a very good locally-optimized website, my trust and decision had to be based on other factors, such as some companies at least having a professional-looking corporate site as opposed to none at all. If you are a smaller local franchise or unique local business, having a really awesome, locally-optimized, city-centric website that speaks directly to your neighbors could win people over to you, but only…
4. If the price is right. I really did like that family-owned business, but if they aren’t offering a competitive price, they are at a major disadvantage. If it were my business, I’d be phoning every tire store in town and mining their data as to price. Then I’d figure out a way to get within $20-$50 of it.
5. Having a well-trained phone staff is non-negotiable. The sales pitch of the businesses that impressed me most sounded like it had been carefully planned. And I don’t mean that the guy who answered ran off at the mouth like he was calling an auction or a square dance. No. Rather, he worked in a lot of incentive-type talk into his response to my request for a quote for tires and he sounded very friendly and glad that I had phoned. No matter how visible you are on the Internet, all website pages and profiles lead to your phone. If the person answering your phone doesn’t sound terrific and smart, you are missing the most critical opportunity to win business.
Which Tire Shop Did I Choose And Why?
I ended up going with the tire shop in the A position. Here are the factors that played into this.
– They were friendly and informative on the telephone. They sounded well-trained. I came away with the impression that they knew what they were doing.
– No other local tire shop could beat their price for comparable tires. I actually was most impressed by the sales pitch of the tire shop in the D position, but their tires were $100 more expensive and as is the case for most people in this economy, budget is a consideration of mine.
– Though their Google-based review count was tiny, it was comparable to that of the competition and there were no glaringly negative reviews without owner responses and nothing about their website threw up a red flag for me, though it wasn’t particularly well-optimized.
How Did It Go?
So, now I’ve got 4 new tires on my car. Tire Shop A installed them in the time they quoted and at the price they quoted. I’m satisfied.
But I’m not jumping up and down in my chair and ready to write an outrageously positive review. My review will be positive but it won’t be ecstatic and here is why.
It was 100 degrees here yesterday. Tire shop A had a small waiting room that absolutely reeked of tires. I couldn’t stand to sit in the fumes for 1 1/2 hours so I went outside. There was no exterior bench for my convenience. There was also no apparent restroom. And, considering how hot it was, I think a coin-operated drink machine would have improved my thirsty scenario greatly. My family has just one car, so if we’ve got to relinquish it, that means we’re going to be hanging about the place until the work is finished and I saw two other families in the same little bind. Point being, a little extra attention to patron comfort could go a long way towards changing my review from satisfied to markedly positive.
And…uh-oh for all you Local SEOs out there, nobody attempted to collect my email address so they could contact me in a few days to request a review. Nobody gave me a little card or anything saying, “please review us.” Nobody even mentioned to us at the end of service that they would really appreciate it if we’d consider leaving them a review when we got home. So, opportunities are being missed and the fact that I will review them is based on habits formed by working in Local, not on any effort of theirs. In a vertical where everyone has so few reviews, a rave review from just a few customers could make a vast difference.
So, satisfied, yes, but also keenly aware that there isn’t one tire store in my whole town that couldn’t benefit from some guidance from a Local SEO and couldn’t make improvements in one direction or another that could have a really positive impact on their business.
I hope this case study has been revealing to you if you are running a quality local-focused business and that you’ve seen areas in which you can improve, based on what I saw when questing for tires.