The Great Yelp Controversy

Many who frequent the internet are no strangers to the “user-submitted” review website known as Yelp.com. What most people who use this website don’t know is that Yelp is out to make money off of small businesses. They have been accused by many businesses of extortion.

If you are unfamiliar with what Yelp.com is, I will briefly summarize what they do, or rather, what they should do and don’t. Yelp is an online database that collects reviews of small business. The reviews are from customers of these small businesses. The website is meant to give honest and fair feedback on companies based on customer’s experiences with them. The reviews are then used to generate a score for that company (the review system is based on a Star Rating system, 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest). Sounds great, right? Well, it would be–if Yelp wasn’t controlling the reviews that they choose to display. Yelp filters out all positive reviews and shows only the negatives. This affects the overall score that the business receives. For example, say a company has one hundred reviews; and eighty-five of those reviews are rated at four or five stars; so that would leave fifteen reviews that have three stars and under. Yelp will take all fifteen of those “low” rated reviews and display those on their website, while sprinkling in three or four “higher” ratings for good measure.

There is a way, however, for small-business owners to ensure that all those filtered positive reviews get viewed and their negative ones get filtered out: they must pay to be an advertiser on Yelp. That’s right; they must pay Yelp money in order to have their reputations saved. Back in October of 2011, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Yelp based on multiple claims of extortion.

For small businesses, like TotalVac, money is tight. We aren’t giant corporations with thousands of employees and locations–we are small, family-run, start-up companies.  We can’t afford to pay for proper advertising like commercials and billboards, so the majority of our sales are based on word-of-mouth. When people check review websites, like Yelp, and see that a company has a poor rating, they go somewhere else. That small business loses that customer forever. What Yelp is doing by charging a high monthly fee (prices that start at $300 and go as high as $1,000) to filter out bad reviews and display the positive ones is wrong. They are single-handedly destroying these mom-and-pop shops.

Currently, TotalVac has a rating of two and a half stars on Yelp. This rating should not be taken seriously. Please know that Yelp is unfairly hiding all of our positive reviews and this, in turn, is skewing our overall score. We are all for freedom of speech. Granted it doesn’t happen often, but if someone has something bad to say about us, so be it. Our issue is that the reviews being displayed and our overall rating aren’t reflective of who we are as a company. We hold customer satisfaction as our highest priority and will do everything in our power to ensure every transaction is as quick and easy as possible. The concept of a user-submitted review site is fantastic. But until the people at Yelp start acting honest and professional and less like the mafia, people should disregard the site as a credible source.

 

Here are some links to the Yelp controversy

One man’s writeup from his experience with Yelp:

- http://www.fearless1.com/yelpresponse.htm

Article about the lawsuit against Yelp:

- http://www.prweb.com/releases/2010/05/prweb3973204.htm

A follow-up article about Yelp continuing their racket in 2012:

- http://pixsym.com/blog/reputation-management/yelp-extortion-the-lawsuits-dismissed-are-they-back-at-it-in-2012

Another small business owner’s extortion experience from Yelp:

- http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/yelp-and-the-business-of-extortion-20/Content?oid=1176635

And finally, a Facebook group entitled “We Hate Yelp”:

- https://www.facebook.com/WeHateYelp?sk=wall

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