Yelp Controversy Highlights Trouble With Consumer Reviews

    March 5, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

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, 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.