Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Yelp Protection Racket

 Most businessmen don't make a habit of calling attention to negative reviews, but I'm about to do that very thing. Let me explain why.
As most of you know, I have a comic shop, Dr. No's Comics & Games SuperStore, in Marietta GA. The store has been around for 37 years, and I've owned it for 32 years; it's quite successful for a small business, and we have hundreds of dedicated, loyal, and happy customers, many of whom have shopped with us for 20 or more years.

On Facebook, Dr. No's has a 4.5 (out of 5) star rating.

And we used to have a 4.5 rating on Yelp. Then it dropped to a 4. It's now a 3. 

Because we refused to advertise with Yelp when they called and told us that if we advertised, they could see to it that more of our five-star ratings were factored into their overall rating. Employees were present for the call and are aware of its content; Yelp didn't even try to hide the fact that they were offering me improved ratings for ad payments. When I said no, our ratings began to drop.
You see, Yelp has two totally different groups of ratings: the recommended ratings, which are the ones that they place on their front page and factor into their overall rating, and the not recommended ratings, which can only be found through a small, almost hidden link at the bottom of the store page, and which are not factored into our overall rating.
In the past week, two positive reviews posted by our customers (Darlene and Gerald) were included in our ratings--and then they were suddenly removed. This has happened again and again. If you check the not recommended section, fifteen positive reviews of Dr. No's have been removed. In some cases, customers whose reviews of other comic shops were included on the front page had their reviews of Dr. No's moved to the not recommended section. Meanwhile, negative reviews that contain deliberation misinformation, or negative reviews that are written by employees of other stores, are allowed to stand.
Remember those old protection rackets you see in noir films and television shows? You know--a shop owner gets a visit from a thug who tells him that this bad things could happen to his business, but if the shop owner will just pay a protection fee to the thug, then his store will be protected.
Well, Yelp is a cyber version of a protection racket. A Yelp rep contacted us and offered to improve our positive ratings if we would commit to monthly Yelp advertising for a year. Isn't that pretty much the same as the old racket of paying a "protection fee" to stop your business from suffering harm? That's exactly what Yelp is doing to us, and I refuse to be blackmailed for positive ratings.
Yelp posts claims of that their system is designed to protect consumers, that "businesses can't pay to alter or remove reviews." That may be the case, but if businesses refuse to pay, Yelp is willing to skew the system of recommended and not recommended reviews to punish them, apparently.

To be clear, not every business with a positive rating on Yelp has paid an advertising fee. For years, we had a very high rating and did not advertise. But once Yelp contacted us and asked us to advertise--and we declined--our rating began to drop. Now it's obvious that the fix is in, and that Yelp has a deliberate policy of removing positive reviews to skew our ratings lower than they would otherwise be.

Research indicates that we are far from the only business suffering from this sort of treatment. There are hundreds of businesses who have made the same discovery, and there have even been class action suits; so far, none of them have gone anywhere, but I keep hoping... If a guy with a baseball bat did what Yelp is doing, he'd be arrested; but because Yelp does it with a website and a computer system, their protection racket is allowed to continue...

Now I'm curious to see how long Yelp will continue to block any positive reviews from being posted about Dr. No's Comics & Games SuperStore. My guess is this will go on for a long, long time, but I hope I'm proven wrong...


Anonymous said...

You should submit this to

Mike Jacobson said...

I heard about this very subject on talk radio in L.A. a couple of months ago. That's too bad.

Anonymous said...

You've got a lot of locals sharing your story, so hopefully the truth will get out there.

Cliff Biggers said...

I appreciate the display of support from those who shop with us, but I'm even more glad to hear that people are spreading the word that Yelp is an unethical racket that is willing to extort businesses to buy advertising... and to deliberately harm their reputations if those businesses do not buy. I hope a lot more people will spread the word regarding Yelp's business practices.