Google Yelp Extortion and you will see story after story complaining that Yelp manipulated reviews to pressure their small businesses into advertising, describing their tactics as extortion and “mob like”.
Documentary film producer Kaylie Miliken raised $100,000 to make a movie about Yelp and its alleged business practices. The movie “Billion Dollar Bully” will be released early 2016 and will even feature a clip from a video from a couple of Hawaii businesses.
But Yelp continues to deny these accusations and defends their system. They point out that the FTC has twice dropped inquiries into these allegations and declined to take action against Yelp, and a lawsuit by small business owners was dismissed in federal appeals court. They claim that there is still no proof that exists that show any wrong doing on Yelp’s part.
So what is the problem and why have small businesses turned on Yelp?
The issue seems to center around the review filter that often filters out genuine reviews, leaving an inaccurate star rating.
Businesses say they welcome genuine, constructive feedback. While negative feedback may be difficult to hear, it can be very helpful for businesses to grow and improve.
But when a business gets a negative review it can be a particularly hard pill to swallow. Especially if that review is untrue and malicious in nature.
Studies show that a business does suffer with each drop of a star rating. So if genuine reviews get caught up in the filter and no way to fix it, businesses understandably get upset.
Atlas Construction recently had this experience.
Atlas has been building homes in Hawaii for 4 generations and prides itself as having a 100% positive rating. At the completion of their projects they get video testimonials from every client and they boast a perfect 5 star review history.
That was until October of 2015 when they suddenly get a notification that they received a scathing 1 star review.
“We were completely shocked. Our first priority above else is customer service. This is the foundation of our company. When we started out on our own we have decided that customer service will be the priority above all else. Yes we build homes and additions and remodel many projects. Our ultimate goal is customer satisfaction not in just the completed project but in the whole experience of working together with Atlas Construction. We have such a wonderful relationship with our customers. It never occurred to us that we could receive a review from someone that was never a customer. Especially one that was so unbelievably malicious,” said Bruce Kim.
The review was from a potential customer who had recently gotten a quote from Atlas. He described Atlas as “a joke” calling them things like “dishonest, pathetic lying cowards” “unprofessional hacks” “hustlers” “unethical disheveled jerks” and described their office as “filthy”.
“After reading it, we were all just sitting there shocked. It felt like someone has just kicked us in the stomach. Never could we have imagined getting a review like that in the Aloha state. And what was worse is that after looking at the persons other reviews, we see that not only does leaving reviews like that seem to be a habitual thing, but that he had made his rounds with other contractors and was not honest in his review. We thought that if we showed yelp that he violated terms and that his own review history proved it, that they would remove it. But they didn’t. Then our positive reviews got filtered!”
Atlas had previous issues with filtered reviews, they were contacted by a Yelp representative. They agreed to advertise after being told that it would help their listing.
“Over the year we paid them, reviews would filter and unfilter randomly without any rhyme or reason. One minute we would have 20 reviews, the next 5. The same reviews would appear and disappear. After getting this negative review, it was worse. Only having 2 positive reviews showing is misleading potential customers. What if they all filter? That would leave us with one negative review! We are so worried that will happen and feel helpless to do anything about it.”
Atlas also pointed out that they were promised that competitors ads would be removed, but that did not include the section at the bottom that suggest like businesses.
“Our Yelp representative even agreed it was misleading. He didn’t even try to convince us to stay when we wanted to cancel.”
Atlas said that advertising did not help them, and called it a waste of money.
“The whole experience left a bad taste in our mouth. When your reviews are accurate and good, life is good. But when something goes wrong, you finally get why everyone is upset. You feel helpless. As a business, having something like this on the internet that you have no control of that is not representing your business honestly, is not good. All we can do is continue doing what we are doing and hope that our future customers can see past this and look at our long history of outstanding service. I hope that eventually legislation will support businesses allowing us to opt out of being on yelp all together. If it isn’t going to be accurate, we don’t want to be part of it at all.”
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