Yelp’s core value is crowdsourced online reviews of millions of businesses, services, and experiences. What happened to online reviews during a global pandemic that shut down in-person experiences indefinitely? Yelp’s stock lost 20% of its value last year, and the company needed to make significant changes to its business model to stay current.

All things considered, Yelp is still pretty relevant in the eyes of consumers. Since CivicScience last surveyed consumers two years ago, there has been a slight drop in respondents who use and like the online review service (down from 24% to 22%).

Online reviews in general are a different story. The overall percentage of customers who have never used an online review site (like Yelp) has risen significantly in the last year (from 64% in January 2020 to 74% in April 2021). It’s obvious that the decrease in shopping and dining during the pandemic took its toll.

The age groups most devoted to using Yelp and other online review sites in general are mostly above 35. Ongoing CivicScience reporting consistently shows consumers over 35 tend to be more concerned about the pandemic and being in public spaces, so it makes sense that overall usage of online review services decreased in the last year. Younger age groups are less interested in posting online reviews.

But when it comes to reviewing products purchased online, the youngest age group is much more likely to share their criticism, particularly that which incorporates negative feedback.

Going Back to Restaurants 

One of the major components of Yelp is its plethora of restaurant-specific reviews and ratings. The data show that people who frequently review restaurants online will be some of the more likely consumers to get back to restaurants for in-person dining. For both users and non-users of sites like Yelp, more than half of respondents are comfortable going to restaurants in the next month. However, users of online review sites were much less likely to say they would wait six months or more before returning to restaurants. Non-users of Yelp and similar sites were more likely to say they will wait six months or more.

Frequent online review users were the most likely to say they would go out to eat at a restaurant within the next week. However, almost twice as many responded that they would prefer to order delivery from a restaurant instead. People who never use review sites are less likely to engage with restaurants at all in the near future. 

Using Yelp and other online reviewing websites could be connected with a commitment to supporting local restaurants. CivicScience data show users are much more likely to eat at independent, local eateries more than non-users. In addition, Yelp recently reported that half a million new businesses opened during the pandemic. These new choices, as well as the desire to support their favorite eat-out spots might motivate restaurant goers to get back to it.

As vaccinated America emerges from its multi-season hibernation, online reviews will likely kick back up. And not only will people be able to share how much they liked or disliked their dinner, they’ll also have the opportunity to comment on how they think the business did with its COVID safety protocols. Businesses should be prepared.