Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Do Great Products or Services Receive Positive Online Reviews?

In October of 2011 a class-action lawsuit against Yelp claiming that they were removing negative reviews in exchange for “advertising” was dismissed with prejudice (meaning they cannot be sued again for the same reason). It’s now two months from 2013 and already it seems the complaints of extortion are not going away; instead they appear to be growing more frequent in numbers as awareness has risen that something fishy could be going on at Yelp.

So far, courts have allowed Yelp to hide behind Section 230 of the Communications Act. For the uninitiated, Section 230(c) (1) of the Communications Act provides:

"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the Co-Founder of DeliveryMaxx and we have a patent pending product which helps companies, particularly automotive dealerships obtaining positive online reputation.  As I always tell my clients, "nothing will replace excellent customer service and an outstanding product."  However, if companies excel in both criteria than why should these businesses not enjoy the rewards of positive online recognition or reputation?

When Google changed their algorithims to scrape fake reviews, DeliveryMaxx was not worried and stood out above the rest of Online Reputation Companies because we identified and implemented a method allowing the consumer to share with the world about their positive experiences immediately. In fact, we have posted several blogs that our clients loved while these guys hated us pulling down the curtain.  When most of these companies had to close shop or make up an excuse to their clients about why the reviews were being scraped, DeliveryMaxx's client base grew 300% overnight.

As one can imagine, other marketers are not happy with our methods or how we share them with the world because they do things wrong or unethical.  DeliveryMaxx practices what we preach and that is to provide a great product or service coupled with outstanding customer service.  In return, we and our clients have a strong customer loyalty.

Now, the issue with Yelp and its label of being an extortion site.  First, let me state that I have no problem with a company saying they will not post business reviews without that company paying to be on their sites.  This is a true "pay to play" business model, and there are some good service sites that consumers utilize to make their purchasing decisions.  The Better Business Burea (BBB) identified a need for the consumer to rate companies on the business and services provided.  The BBB investigates and allows a response from businesses and then makes a judgment for all to see.  According to the BBB's website: "Fulfill all licensing and bonding requirements of applicable jurisdictions; provide all license and bonding information upon application for BBB accreditation; and provide periodic updates upon request of BBB" and "If a business has been accredited by the BBB, it means BBB has determined that the business meets accreditation standards which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB accredited businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public."  Clearly, this is a pay to play evaluation for businesses.

However, Yelp has been criticized over the fairness of both negative and positive reviews on the site. A competitor can easily write an anonymous review with either extreme in mind. Yelp states that it will not censor reviews, but will remove suspicious reviews. Reviews are filtered for accuracy and reliability by an automated process that is intended to be neutral. The Oakland, California based East Bay Express published a 2009 story highlighting businesses that said that Yelp salespeople offered "to hide negative customer reviews of their businesses" by paying for advertising sponsorship contracts, and that positive reviews were removed and negative ones appeared when the business refused. In February 2010, two law firms filed a class action lawsuit, later dismissed by a federal judge, accusing Yelp of "extortion" on behalf of a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, California that made similar claims. Partially in response to these allegations[not in citation given] and in a move to increase transparency, Yelp added a feature that shows which reviews were filtered by its filtering algorithm. Nonetheless, Yelp continues to receive criticism over the filtering system as well as accusations by business owners of review manipulation.

Like every Web site that depends on consumer critiques, Yelp has a problem with companies trying to manipulate their results. So it set up a sting operation to catch them. The first eight businesses — including a moving company, two repair shops and a concern that organizes treasure hunts — will find themselves exposed on Thursday.

Now businesses caught soliciting favorable reviews are increasingly running the risk of getting slapped with a badge of shame like this one:


Is this right?  At first glance, I don't mind cheaters being punished if they are wrong.  I loved what Lance Armstrong overcame to win an unprecedented seven Tour de France races.  However, he cheated.  No matter how much I enjoyed seeing him dominate his sport, he did not play within the rules and his accomplishments are now erased from the record books.

The same should go for businesses that practice obtaining fake reviews.  However, the question still remains to the businesses that are judged and virtually hanged in the virtual courtyard of consumer opinion without much recourse to clear their name.

In today's world:

  • 66% of consumers use the internet to research an item online before their purchase
  • 89% of consumers research vehicle reviews online before they make their purchase
  • 62% of all consumers read consumer-written product reviews online (with the highest percentage coming from 22-35 year olds (82%) with 36+ at 45%)
  • 69% of consumers who read reviews share them with friends, family, or colleagues, thus amplifying their impact in consumer behavior
  • 82% of consumers say their purchase decisions have been directly influence by the user reviews, either influencing them to buy a different product other than the one they had originally been thinking about

The facts are businesses have to get positive published online reviews in order to sustain profitability.  They have to find mediums to share these positive experiences with the world.  The consumer is all to willing to share there bad experiences which is not a bad thing.  The fact is that consumers are not as willing to share great experiences online.  This is where the problem is created.

So my question to the reader is this.  "Is it wrong to allow EVERY consumer to review a businesses product or service immediately whether the review is positive or negative?"  If you say "no" than what is the best method?  I am of the belief that Google, Yelp, Merchant Circle, Yellow Pages, CitiSearch, Yahoo should allow the consumer to write a review immediately, and not punish the business for providing this opportunity within their brick and morter confines.  Unfortunately, there are cheaters.  If review sites like Yelp catch the cheaters, that is a good thing.  But should good ethical businesses that provide exceptional goods or services be punished for identifying methods that allow reviews to be published immediately?  DeliveryMaxx has been very successful in providing our clients with published positive reviews on all of these sites.

Ultimately, the consumer will provide the answer.  Our enterprise system will prevail.  The consumer will find the flaws in the review sites that don't have correct filters and stop trusting those sites.  They will also find the sites that are non-biased and choose to research information and make their purchasing decisions accordingly.

Finally, if a business wants to succeed then they must provide a great product, and outstanding customer service.  Some things will never change.