Are online reviews important to Gen Z? Not so much, survey finds

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Marketing, Public Relations

Consumer reviews provide genuine, warts-and-all information for prospective buyers in virtually all B2B and B2C categories, and have been hailed as important components of product pages and rating and review sites—but these types of testimonials may not have the same influence on Generation Z as with other sectors.

A new study from The Pollack PR Marketing Group indicates that Generation Z, the largest and most diverse demographic in the United States, may be significantly less influenced by Yelp and online reviews than Millennials. The firm’s GenZEats survey found that 75 percent of respondents between the ages 15-24 have never written a Yelp review. The results challenge the long-held narrative that digitally native Gen Zers are more engaged online than any other generation. The study also provides new insights for restaurateurs and small business owners who have grown accustomed to depending on online reviews.

None of the study’s findings suggest that Yelp will be rendered obsolete or irrelevant anytime soon

In fact, the majority (67 percent) of Gen Z cohorts responding to the study say that they check Yelp reviews and conduct online research before visiting a restaurant for the first time. But notably, 36 percent of respondents say they are “slightly likely” or “not at all likely” to use Yelp when searching for full-service or fast-casual restaurants—the two most popular restaurant categories frequented by Gen Z on a weekly basis, according to the research.

One-third (36 percent) of Gen Z respondents say they are “likely” or “somewhat likely” to post a Yelp review if a restaurant offered them a free item—a common marketing tactic by most restaurants today. Yet Gen Zers may see this as inauthentic.

“As the study demonstrates, Gen Z views social media and brand engagement through a lens of inherent skepticism,” said Stefan Pollack, president of The Pollack PR Marketing Group, in a news release. “Gen Z prefers to do their own research online to come up with an informed decision before a purchase. They view platforms like Yelp with suspicion because they know it’s tinged with corporate influence, which they equate with their parents. From a restaurant’s perspective, increasing engagement with this generation is challenging, for even offering Gen Z a free dessert in exchange for a favorable review isn’t an incentive that works. Rather, according to the study, it is seen as a tool for manipulation. It’s the ultimate generational faux pas.”

Even posting pictures of food on social media gets the brush-off from Gen Z, based on the study’s findings

This is a sharp departure from the Millennials, who essentially invented the food blog category in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Posting food photos (or food porn, as it has become widely known online) invites engagement, but 63 percent of Gen Z respondents say they currently post pictures “not very often” or “none at all.”

“We should not confuse access to technology with a desire to engage online. Gen Z may be glued to their mobile devices, but that doesn’t mean they want to engage with brands and businesses the same way as Millennials. It will be interesting to see how Gen Z’s value set evolves over time,” added Pollack.

In recent years, Yelp has become a target of partisan politics

Angry customers who disagree with a restaurant’s political views and affiliations will deliberately bombard it with negative reviews to drive its ratings down—a nightmare for many small business owners. Yelp may have an outsized influence on older generations but nearly all (96 percent) Gen Z respondents say they have never done this. Youth may also play a role; hyper-political acts of revenge may be of little interest, especially for teens and college students.

When it comes to other social issues, Gen Z sentiment varies. When asked if they would support a restaurant or restaurant chain that donated money to anti-LGBTQ groups, 45 percent said they will “because it doesn’t affect the taste or quality of the food I eat,” while 41 percent said they would not support a restaurant because of that. The study also found that 73 percent support raising the national minimum wage for fast food workers to $15.

Are online reviews important to Gen Z? Not so much, survey finds

The Pollack PR Marketing Group “GenZEats” survey was conducted among 490 Gen Z individuals between October 23 and December 7, 2019, using an online survey.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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