How Consumers Use Social Networks to Connect with Food Retailers: Who’s Reading Online Reviews?

Posted: July 23, 2012

Focusing on online reviews, this article provides data not only about who is reading online reviews, but also how they are responding to other's reviews. This is important because people are likely talking about your business and products on or on social media sites.

A surprising 82% of respondents have read reviews on the internet. We can speculate that large-ticket items were more heavily reviewed, but food retailers should make note of this rather larger percent.  About 85% of those with household incomes greater than $50,000 per year read online reviews compared to only 75% of those with lower incomes.  We also found that the percentage of those reading reviews increased with education level; from 75% of those with a high school degree or less up to 92% for those with at least a master’s degree (Table 1).

Table 1.  Percent of participants, by education level, who have read online reviews.

Education level
Percent response
 High school or less
 Some college
 B.S. degree
 M.S. degree or higher

We were curious to know how people responded to both positive and negative reviews. A majority of survey respondents indicated that they were impacted by positive and negative reviews (90.1% and 89.4%, respectively).  Table 2 shows the percentage of survey respondents who indicated that they responded to positive reviews on seven different sites (the total does not equal 100% as participants were allowed to select all sites where reviews persuaded them).  The top three influencers for both positive and negative reviewers were the business’s website, the retail site where the product was purchased, and reviewer websites such as  Facebook was the top social media influencer, but positive and negative reviews posted on the website only influenced a third of participants.

Table 2.  Percent of participants who were impacted by positive and negative reviews on select websites.

Review website
Percentage of participants
influenced by
positive reviews
Percentage of participants
influenced by
  negative reviews
Retail sites where
products were purchased
       54.6%            52.2%
Reviewer sites (e.g., Yahoo reviews)
Business's website
Facebook        35.1%
Friend's and/or family member's website
Blogs        10.1%            10.2%
Twitter          7.0%

Responses were then segmented by age group with results indicating that younger participants were more likely to be influenced by online reviews, especially those posted on reviewer websites (e.g. and Facebook, than more mature participants (Table 3).  Twitter and blogs had relatively little influence on all participant age groups regardless if positive or negative reviews were posted.

Table 3.  Percentage of participants, by age group, who were influenced by positive and negative reviews on select websites.

Age group
Business's website, positive reviews
Business's website, negative reviews Facebook, positive reviews Facebook, negative reviews Twitter, positive reviews Twitter, negative reviews Blog, positive reviews Blog, negative reviews Reviewer websites, positive reviews
Reviewer websites, negative reviews
 18 to 24
 38.1%  39.7%  54.0%
 49.2%   17.5%  15.9%  19.0%
 20.6%  69.8%  68.3%
 25 to 36
 50.0% 44.5%  42.7%  38.2%  11.4%  9.1%  14.5%  12.3%  54.1%  52.7%
 37 to 48
 45.6%  38.5%  36.1%  32.5%  8.3%  9.1%  10.3%  10.7%  48.8%  46.0%
 49 to 64
 40.0%  35.3%  28.3%  24.4%  4.7%  4.7%  7.5%  8.1%  37.2%  36.9%
 65 and older
 29.9%  25.3%  27.6%  25.3%  4.6%  5.7%  2.3%  4.6%  39.1%  35.6%

It is clear from these data that online reviews, both positive and negative, do influence many people.  With a majority of participants reading reviews, those most impacted by online reviews were younger survey participants, who were more likely to be persuaded by reviews on third party websites, such as or Facebook.  Finally, we saw that there was a very small difference in the percentage of participants influenced by negative reviews compared to positive reviews.  Hence, food businesses should be mindful of what is posted about their business and their products.  Developing an online monitoring strategy is necessary and allows businesses to protect their reputation and address consumer concerns, while also learning about what customers enjoy and value about their business and product offerings. 

In the next article, we will present data that discusses who is posting product reviews online and where they are posting the reviews.  To view the entire YouTube series, please visit


Contact Information

Jeffrey Hyde, Ph.D.
  • Associate Director of Programs
Phone: 814-865-5666
Kathy Kelley
  • Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management
Phone: 814-863-2196
Dana Ollendyke
  • Extension Associate
Phone: 814-863-5567