Consumers Not Thrilled With Local Info Sources

Local search is making strides but it’s still not satisfying the majority of consumers, and neither are other sources of local information, whether they’re on- or off-line. That’s the conclusion of researchers from the Kelsey Group and Constat, in a study expected to be released today.

“People are going to more places to find information, and they’re not being wowed by anything yet,” Neal Polachek, SVP of research and consulting at the Kelsey Group. “What I get online might be broader than what I might get in the book, but it’s not as deep. And what I get in the book is deep but not as broad.”

To get at users’ level of satisfaction with different media, the researchers asked them to rate the various platforms on a scale of one to ten. Those that gave a particular medium an eight, nine or ten were deemed satisfied. Of all of the sources for local shopping information, newspapers satisfied the most respondents (45 percent). Internet search engines came in second, with 39 percent of respondents rating them highly. Online shopping sites (16 percent) and Internet Yellow Pages (15 percent) provided significantly lower satisfaction. Worst were local newspapers’ Web sites (11 percent) and online message boards (5 percent).

Polachek notes that despite major investments by Google and Yahoo in their local search platforms, consumer satisfaction with the offerings hasn’t increased from the last time this study was conducted, when the same percentage of users (39 percent) rated them highly.

“I think there’s probably been an 18- to 24-month window where the product side of this thing has developed very well,” he said. “Yahoo has a great local search product. Google is pretty good. But what’s underneath all this stuff isn’t as good as it can be or should be yet. When I say what is underneath, I mean the data. ”

Polachek suggests that consumers’ exposure to new sources for local information, such as local search from Yahoo and Google; social sites like Judy’s Book and Insider Pages; and directory-assistance replacements like 1-800-FREE411, might be frustrating consumers as much as helping them.

“Sometimes fewer options are easier,” he said, noting that each category of player has strengths and weaknesses, but no one service meets all of consumers’ needs. “I think we’re going though that process in trying to understand where they’re going to find the information they need, when they need it, and I don’t think it’s completely figured out yet.”

That’s part of the reason, Polachek reckons, that consumers haven’t tossed out their print Yellow Pages books yet.

“People are not throwing away their phone books en masse yet. I think the online experience just isn’t where it needs to be yet,” he said. “Some at the really young ages are dumping them or not picking them up, but for people who have roofs to deal with or big purchase items, it’s not happening.”

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