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KAI RYSSDAL: This being Friday, you could be looking for something relaxing to do this evening. If you’re hoping to find a new restaurant or a good spot for happy hour, you might check out one of those online review sites. The ones that let users post their*critiques of everything from restaurants and hardware stores. Yelp is one of them — a pretty popular one, in fact. About 20 million people a month use its reviews. But the site itself is getting some bad reviews — from small businesses. Marketplace’s Jennifer Collins explains what happens when everybody’s a critic.
Jennifer Collins: So I’m looking for a pizza place. I go on Yelp, and voila, Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza. Sounds good. Except, check out the review: “Horrible, horrible, horrible customer service. They wouldn’t take my coupon.”
There’s only one problem:
Jamie Inzunza: We don’t have any coupons.
That’s Jamie Inzunza — she owns Mamma’s. And it’s reviews like — inaccurate ones — that really bug her because…
Inzunza: We couldn’t reply to that because it has nothing to do with how our food tastes. You know…
She couldn’t reply because Yelp wouldn’t let her. Right now companies can pay to come up first in a search on the site, or pay to have their good reviews move to the top of the list. But they can’t talk back. Starting next week, though, Yelp will let businesses to post responses to reviews. Carl Howe is a consumer researcher at Yankee Group.
Carl Howe: They want to keep their business advertisers. They want to keep them happy. And if they can challenge the factual basis of bad reviews, I think that’s a valid response.
But wait a second. If businesses are posting on the site, won’t Yelp will lose some credibility with users?
Howe: A lot of people will believe what the business says and some may not. A lot depends on what the reviews are and how entertaining they are in responding.
How’s this for entertaining? One San Francisco restaurant printed its bad Yelp reviews on T-shirts and gave them out to its staff.
I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.
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