How do online user reviews influence consumers in Canada?

Published on 7/26/2022 by Tessa Anaya

How much importance do Canadian consumers put on user reviews? To answer this question for curious businesses, Capterra surveyed local consumers to ask about their habits, preferences, and trust levels in online reviews. 

a study on the importance of user reviews by Capterra Canada

Customer reviews have always played a valuable role for businesses, whether used to improve internal operations or to promote goods and services to new customers. The idea of leveraging buyer feedback existed well before the invention of review management tools in strategies such as testimonial and word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, sellers have been receiving feedback from customers for centuries, with the first customer complaint in history earning a spot in the British Museum.

As online shopping and eCommerce in Canada continue to grow, customers may be developing new habits and expectations for a brand’s customer reviews. What are consumers looking for when browsing online reviews, and what makes them decide they’re authentic? To find out more about the usage and effectiveness of online user reviews, Capterra surveyed more than 600 consumers who have read a review before making a purchase (for a full methodology, scroll to the bottom of this article). 

What are consumer habits when reading user reviews?

With much of the customer experience occurring digitally, paying attention to consumer behaviour regarding online reviews can provide SMEs with an opportunity to understand and meet buyers’ expectations. 

Online shopping spiked during the pandemic, and according to our survey, 32% of consumers are checking reviews more often than they did before the onset of COVID-19.

Customers are seeking online reviews more than before, and many want to read multiple reviews before forming an opinion about a product or service. While the majority of consumers surveyed (57%) typically read between 2 and 5 reviews before committing, over a quarter (28%) want to read between 6 and 10 online reviews. 

graph showing how many online reviews customers want to read before trusting a business

As far as the type of testimonial that customers refer to most frequently, most (72%) prefer written customer reviews to help them in their purchasing decisions. 13% of those surveyed read expert articles for help, and a further 9% watch videos to get the information they need. 

A note for SMEs: Though most surveyed buyers prefer to check user reviews on sites that cater to this type of content, social media marketing could also play a role in circulating reviews —though it depends on who is providing the testimonial. More surveyed consumers preferred social media posts from previous customers than reading those made by paid influencers, so keep this in mind when using reviews to create buzz for your brand.

In which industries do customers check reviews most often?

With the rising growth of the eCommerce sector, online businesses of all industries could benefit from showcasing customer reviews. To understand which industries might stand to gain the most by leveraging these opinions, surveyed customers rated the influence of online reviews on their purchasing decisions based on product or service type. 

Customers were most likely to be influenced “a lot” by reviews for the following products/services:

  • Electronics (56%)
  • Travel and hotel rooms (50%)
  • Professional services (49%)
  • Software (39%)

The goods and services consumers were most interested in reading reviews for have something in common: they typically have significant investment costs, both time- and money-wise. Compared to lower-cost goods and services such as clothing or entertainment purchases (for which reviews were seen as highly influential for 22% and 18% of surveyed consumers, respectively), user reviews for high-priced purchases were seen as more influential overall.

stacked bar chart showing most common industries for influential online reviews for business
A note for SMEs: If you’re in an industry where consumers have a heightened interest in reading online reviews, their feedback could play a big role for buyers considering a purchase. SMEs should stay aware of the consumer opinions shared on their own website, but may also need to research and manage those appearing on specialist review platforms, such as   HomeStars or Houzz for home improvement services or Capterra for software.

What are consumer habits when writing online reviews?

Online shoppers may check reviews before making purchases, but what about writing reviews post-purchase? According to our survey, nearly one-third of respondents (31%) have written one or two reviews over the past two years. Surprisingly, despite the rise in those who rely on reviews since the pandemic, a nearly equal number of respondents (30%) said they did not leave any online reviews in the past two years.

pie chart of consumer habits for writing reviews online for businesses

Of the 70% of customers surveyed who have provided online reviews recently, over a quarter (28%) would like to have a response from the company. If the review is negative, there are certain elements that people would like to see in a response, such as:

  • 34% think a personal greeting is the most important part of a company’s response
  • 30% believe an explanation of the issue is most important
  • 19% think an apology is top priority in a response

As for the second most important aspect of a company’s response to a negative review, 32% wanted to see the next steps to solving the problem cited in the review. While typing out responses takes time and diligence, SMEs can use them as a marketing opportunity. Responses to reviews can show customers that the company values their opinion and is dedicated to improving its product or service. This provides value to existing customers who have experienced a similar problem, and reassurance to potential customers who see a proactive example of a company’s customer service.

A note for SMEs: Although a significant portion of respondents want companies to respond to their user reviews, that wish may not always come true. While over half of review-leaving respondents (54%) have occasionally received responses to their reviews over the past two years, 41% say they never got a response. Though SMEs may find it difficult to stay on top of customer reviews, review management tools can help employees respond to reviews directly, and may even be able to send alerts and reminders to post responses. 

What about the negative side of reviews?

Online user reviews hold a lot of potential to do good for a company’s reputation and marketing, but there are also some drawbacks. Negative reviews, fake reviews, and having customers’ attention drawn to either of those are all concerns SMEs may have when showcasing customer feedback. 

One fear regarding how customers interact with business reviews is that they may only seek out the negative comments. However, this pessimistic view isn’t supported by data. When asked if they trust negative or positive reviews more, respondents trusted positive reviews (18%) and negative reviews (17%) in near equal measure.

Negative reviews may not have the unfavorable impact that some expect, but other aspects of reviews could play an adverse role: their authenticity. Over half (54%) of Canadians surveyed think about half or more online reviews published on a company’s website are fake. Only 1% of respondents think all reviews are fake, and a further 43% think less than half of reviews are inauthentic.

A note for SMEs: To combat suspicions of fake reviews, companies should seek to feature customer reviews on websites outside of their own as well. Nearly half of consumers surveyed (44%) report making sure that reviews are published on trusted review platforms helps them be confident that a review is authentic. SMEs can even download software that enables them to embed external online reviews on their own website, though they should be careful not to violate any copyright policies while doing so.

How do customers recognize trustworthy reviews?

From the moment a customer reaches a business website, they’re learning information that will help them decide whether or not to buy a product. Reviews, much like marketing claims, have to seem realistic and unbiased to be deemed reliable; but what exactly makes an online review trustworthy in consumers’ eyes?

how to identify a trustworthy online user review

Date of review: The majority of surveyed consumers (33%) think online reviews should be between 1 and 3 months old to be taken into account, and a quarter (26%) think they should be no older than 6 months old. In addition, 18% of respondents said reviews should be no less than a year old to be considered relevant, suggesting that SMEs should constantly collect reviews to keep them recent for new customers arriving on their site.

Rating of the product: Allowing customers who leave reviews to rate their product or service, such as on a point-based scale or scale of stars, was the most common number-one priority amongst survey respondents when considering the trustworthiness of a review. However, that doesn’t mean customers only expect to see 5-star reviews. When asked if they’d prefer to buy a product/service with 5 ratings of 5/5 stars or one with 15 ratings of 4/5 stars, nearly three out of four respondents (74%) prefer a lower-rated product with a higher number of reviews.

Contents of review: One in five respondents (21%) said that reading customer comments in text form was a top priority when deciding whether to trust reviews, showing that many Canadians want more detailed information from reviews than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. To get specific, seeing the pros (important to 70% of survey takers) and cons (71%) was ranked as the most important part of an online text review, followed by 68% who wanted to read about personal experiences with the product/service they are considering.

Ensuring online reviews touch on these aspects can transform them into powerful selling points. However, it also requires a concerted effort. SMEs can source such online reviews themselves by using online survey or SMS survey tools to solicit specific feedback. Third-party review websites are also a great option for showcasing reviews with the above info points, as these sites often have built-in features for star ratings, pros, cons, and comparisons. 

How customer reviews can build trust

User reviews aren’t only valuable when promoting a product or service to potential customers, they can also serve as an important channel of feedback between consumers and companies. SMEs should view online reviews as opportunities to improve their offering and customer service while building trust. 

To leverage reviews in a way that builds value and trust in a product or service, SMEs should:

  • Consistently solicit/collect online reviews, as both the timeliness and amount of reviews play into their usefulness for customers
  • Feature product ratings, text comments, and pro and con reviews to give customers the most relevant information
  • Create a policy to monitor reviews and respond to both positive and negative feedback
  • Encourage customers to leave reviews on specialist review sites

If your company is new to reviews management, you may have further questions about soliciting reviews. In part two of this article series, we will look at how Canadian SMEs are currently managing their reviews strategy, as well as give tips on how to encourage customers to leave feedback you can use to advance on business goals.

Looking for review management software? Check out our catalogue!

Survey methodology:

Capterra’s Online Reviews Survey was launched online in April 2022. The two-part survey was completed by 608 consumers and 400 employees. For the purpose of this article, we have focused on the consumer group. The sample of participants is representative of the population of Canada regarding aspects of age and gender, and the criteria for selecting participants are as follows:

  • Canadian resident 
  • Over the age of 18
  • Read online reviews “always,” “often,” “occasionally,” or “rarely” before buying a product/service

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Tessa is a Content Analyst for Capterra, delivering software-related insights to local SMEs. She was featured in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, the Financial Post, and Yahoo.

Tessa is a Content Analyst for Capterra, delivering software-related insights to local SMEs. She was featured in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, the Financial Post, and Yahoo.