Earlier this week, Kathleen Richards of the East Bay Express published an article titled: Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0. The main point of the rather scathing article is that Yelp offers to hide negative customer reviews of businesses on its website, but for a price.
Now normally, such blog banter wouldn’t hit my radar and even if it did, I would usually ignore it. However, the Yelp story hit a nerve and prompted me to post about why I am a little dubious of Yelp.
In December 2006, I had a bad experience at a local business (Tea Time at 542 Ramona St, Palo Alto, CA 94301). I posted a review on Yelp. Here is the full text of the review:
Yikes! I’m so surprised to see the other reviews for this place on Yelp. Here’s why:
Three of us were meeting for a business meeting at Coupa Cafe at 10:30 AM. Coupa happened to be very crowded and so we decided, hey, why not go next door to Tea Time since it was empty. And I mean empty, there were no customers there at all.
We go into Tea Time and find a place to sit. Turns out all the power outlets happened to be along the wall where there was only seating for two. There being three of us, we pulled up a extra table and chair, ordered a pot of tea and sat down do chat and do a demo.
A couple of minutes later, the guy running the store (apparently not the owner) comes by and tells us they “we’re not allowed to change their seating configuration because they have all these other customers that they need to accommodate”. May I remind you that we were the ONLY customers in the store at the time
We told him we would put things back in their position when we leave, but he insisted that he had to put the chairs back in their position right away. So we told him to give us our money back first and merrily went on our way to one of the several other great places Palo Alto has to offer.
What amazes me is how someone can be so silly as to piss off their only customers in the store and that too to make sure they can keep their chairs in the right position!
So we obviously have the worst possible opinion of this place and I bet that their lack of attention to customer needs will render them out of business soon. Afterall, this is the Valley — lots of people go to cafe’s to plug in, get on the net and talk shop, the beverages/deserts are often the perks which come as side effect. So here’s wishing all the best to the guy/gal who owns this place — they’ve still got a lot of learning to do about how to run a business.
I posted the review and then also emailed a copy to my cohorts who were with me. A while later, when I visited Yelp, I figured I would check to see if my review was still there. I was shocked to find that when I looked through all the reviews for Tea Time, my review, with its 1 star rating was no where to be found.
A little further digging today, right before writing this post, showed that the negative review I wrote only shows up when I am logged in to my Yelp account. When I log in to my Yelp account, Tea Time has 47 reviews. However, when I visit the site in another browser, without logging in to my account, it only shows 46 reviews.
Now I’m not an avid “yelper”. This was the one time I felt that my experience with a local business was bad enough to warrant taking the time to write a review on Yelp about it. The fact that the review doesn’t show up for anyone except for me, seems to suggest something that needs further review. Jeremy has written about their black-box algorithm, but I can see how and why an algorithm should be used to compute the final ranking for a business. However, removing a full review, which is the raw data, seems inappropriate to me.
I would be perfectly okay with allowing the business to rebut the review given by a particular user and and if a business takes the time to do so, perhaps it should reduce the weight assigned to the review accordingly. However, I think it is inappropriate to not show or remove a review.
I am perfectly willing to give Yelp the benefit of the doubt here. They have a great site and I use it often to check reviews (but don’t write many). But my faith and trust in Yelp’s site would be considerably higher if I the one review I took the time to post, would actually show up on their site. If they have a rational explanation, I’m all ears and would welcome a response in the comments.