Is Yelp Still Strong-Arming Merchants?
For years the complaints about Yelp’s “sales” tactics have been heard. Maybe I am just not paying attention but I thought that had gone away to some extent. Now with Yelp going public and all the positive vibes flying around about the company as an investment it may get even harder to find the reality.
That is until I read this article at SFGate.com entitled “A 1-star, unfiltered user review of Yelp”. It’s written by restauranteur, Bob Larive, whose Fior d’Italia has been around for 125 years so they must be doing something right. He states
As a longtime restaurateur active in the industry and previous board member of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the California Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association, I think the way Yelp treats businesses and Yelp users doesn’t bode well for it.
OK so he sounds like many of the merchants we hear of regarding the service. He continues
Yelp reviews of my restaurant, Fior d’ Italia, are a perfect example of the flaws in the Yelp system. The Fior has been around for 125 years and has been successful because of great food and service. But if you look at the Fior Yelp site today, the restaurant has 218 posted reviews averaging 2 1/2 stars, with many terrible one-star reviews.
What you don’t see (unless you look hard for them) are the 115 “filtered reviews,” which average out to a ranking of more than four stars. That is a current problem for the Fior, and in the long term, a problem for Yelp.
It’s this next quote, though, that brings up images of the old Yelp that supposedly doesn’t exist or, according to Yelp themselves, has never existed at all.
Over the past year, I have attempted to get some clarity and assistance from Yelp. I have had no success except that its sales staff has repeatedly advised that if we would only advertise with them, they could “help us.”
We believe that is extortion.
Just a quick question to each one of us. If this accusation had been leveled at Google do you think there would be an uproar of epic proportions? I do. For some reason Yelp is able to continue using these tactics and even go public while doing so.
Something doesn’t seem right, does it? Larive claims this is happening with other merchants as well. I guess my question is why there isn’t some concern about this business tactic from the likes of lawmakers who are constantly trying to nail Google for unfair practices?
Yelp’s CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, was even on Capitol Hill testifying against Google with regard to Google’s practices meanwhile, back in the Yelp offices, their sales team was holding business owners hostage with the “We can help you with our free service if you pay us!” routine?
I have no ax to grind with Yelp. However, if this is true Yelp should step back and look at their model as should investors who are now placing their bets that Yelp is a real business and not one that is playing the old Mafia game of paying for protection.
UPDATE – We heard from Yelp regarding this post with the following response from Chantelle Karl, Sr. Public Relations Manager at Yelp.com
I caught your article this afternoon as a result of the restauranteur-contributed piece in the Chron and wanted to clear up a few of the misconceptions made.
First, there has never been any amount of money you can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews and claims to the contrary have been repeatedly thrown out of court. Users can check out any advertiser’s page on Yelp to see for themselves that our review filter works the same for advertisers and non-advertisers alike.
Since our inception in 2004, we have had an automated review filter in place that works to protect consumers and business owners from fake, shill or malicious reviews. We understand that it is not a perfect system – some legitimate content might get filtered and some illegitimate content might make it through – but our product team is always working to improve it. And while the filter sometimes raises frustrations, it is this high cost that we’ve chosen to accept because we know the infinitely higher cost would be to not have an algorithm in place at all. In fact, business owners shared with us just yesterday what the filter means to them and their business.
Lastly, for four years now, we’ve had a way for businesses to respond publicly and privately to reviews (amongst a host of other tools like traffic & analytics) all for free: biz.yelp.com. Yelpers have also shared what it means to them as a consumer when business owners engage.
I hope this helps clarify our policies and the systems we have in place to protect both business owners and consumers.