Why is it important for brick and mortar stores to maintain a favorable online presence? Well, simply put, consumer behaviour has changed.

Businesses will always rely on word of mouth for their brand to gain recognition and respect, but in the wake of digital media’s growing presence in society, word of mouth is increasingly shifting to the platforms of social networking sites. Let’s analyse a situation many of us have been in before choosing a place to eat.

Imagine yourself arriving in a new area. It’s approaching dinner time, you’re hungry, but you’re not quite sure what you’re hungry for. You start conducting a debate in your head. “Indian food?” you ask yourself. “Nah,” you answer, “I don’t think I can handle the spices at the moment.” “Chinese Food? But I had Chinese food last night.”

In your mind you flip through the rolodex of ethnic food choices – Thai, Greek, Vietnamese, Mexican – and then you come to Italian, and at the thought of pasta bolognese, your taste buds start to dance and your stomach grumbles with excitement. But then you think to yourself, “There must be heaps of Italian restaurants around here, how do I find one that’s both convenient and delicious?” Then you remember that you have a trusty little guide in your pocket.

You pull out your phone, open up your browser, and search for Italian restaurants within your proximity. The screen fills up with Italian restaurants. Beneath one of the places you read a comment from earlier that night: “Service was terrible. Had to wait over an hour for my pasta and it was served cold.” You read some other negative comments about the place, so you scratch that one off the list. You scroll down to find an Italian restaurant that has more positive feedback. You choose one with a recent comment that reads: “I’ve been to a bunch of Italian restaurants in the area, and this one is def my fave.” You scroll through some other comments, and notice the majority of them are positive. Someone even says the pasta bolognese is their signature dish. “It’s fate!” you declare to yourself, and with that, your decision is made.

Customers are on popular social networks to not only share their own experiences, but to also seek and learn from the experiences of others. And in a time when digital information is so readily accessible, the importance of a business to maintain a positive online presence should be an obvious priority for the merchant. Yet, there are still many small business merchants who continue to undermine the potential impact of social media on their brand or service.