Yelp Controversy Highlights Trouble With Consumer Reviews

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This consumer review thing may need to be rethought. Like just about everything else that came out of the Web 2.0 movement, customer reviews of businesses are huge targets for abuse.

The most recent example comes from Yelp.com, a site popular in San Francisco for reviewing area restaurants. The East Bay Express published a damning article citing nine local eatery owners and a few anonymous Yelp employees and contractors who said Yelp ad sales reps were offering to remove bad reviews and promote good ones in exchange for $300 per month ad campaigns.

Yelp has vehemently denied the allegations and points to several instances where owners tried to get negative reviews removed and couldn’t. Both sides of the story have a vested interest in a particular version of the story. Restaurateurs with bad reviews can point to that article and discredit Yelp. Yelp can say that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.

Nonetheless, one pizzeria has turned Yelp reviews into an opportunity to mock the site. Delfina Pizzeria has made t-shirts out of them for employees to wear, one of which says “This place sucks,” and another refers to grease and pig fat. One imagines loyal customers admire that kind of spunk.

But it points to the broader issue. How much can we trust customer reviews? The whole idea was transparency and honesty and conversations, but they seem perfect for manipulation for both sides. When you go to BabiesRus, for example, how does one know that glowing reviews aren’t stacked by the manufacturer and/or bad reviews aren’t rung in by competitors?

You wouldn’t know, unless you’re really confident in your BS sniffers.

It’s times like those you rely on old-world standbys like Consumer Reports and independent, professional reviewers.    

Yelp Controversy Highlights Trouble With Consumer Reviews
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  • http://canon-powershot-sx1is.blogspot.com/ Kyle

    That’s right…you never know whether to trust these reviews or not. Last summer I took my family on vacation and decided on a hotel based on customer reviews. Fortunately, it turned out good. But, I was very nervous until we arrived because I didn’t fully trust the reviews.

  • William B.

    Yelp is riddles with fake reviews. Also Yelp employes many of the most prolific reviewers, they are called “community managers” and “scouts.” They also curry favor with free food and drinks to so-called “Elite” reviewer who inturn write usually positive reviews about establishments Yelp targets for sponsorship.

    The site demographic is 20 to 30 age group and the reviews are not of the higher end, fine dining establishments. So if you want reveiws of Subway, Starbucks or the local tattoo parlor, it’s OK. But for serious food critics, stick to the professional food critics.

  • http://www.streetslocal.co.uk Daniel

    Its hard to say if the reviews are faked and im sure there is an element of reviews posted by rivals of the business.

    We at wwww.streetslocal.co.uk monitor our reviews and ensure that reviews remain genuine and safe.

  • http://ripsychotherapy.com Mike Adamowicz

    One problem with the reviews is that you get only a small percentage of the people who have used the service or product. And then the reviewers have to be quite motivated to take the time to write the review. The reviews then are likely to be skewed in favor of people who had a really good experience or a really bad one.

  • Ls

    I work in a small service business, and we check our reviews regularly. Our number of reviews fluctuates regularly, both good and bad seeming to have been deleted or reinstated. Also, since our business owner joined Yelp (and pays a monthly fee) I have noticed that our one particularly disparaging review has been deleted.

    Although I love that we have great reviews on Yelp (and most of them we can tell are genuine…) I just don’t trust it for unbiased reviews. In my experience, they skew the reviews for people who are paying customers.

  • Pat

    I posted a bad review on a cosmetic shop. It was there for about three months, then miraculously it disappeared when I do a random search without loggin in. But when I sign in as myself, Yelp still displays the review. Pretty tricky…

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