Yelp is now showing “Consumer Alert” warning messages on the profile pages of eight businesses that it says it caught in a sting operation trying to buy reviews.
As the New York Times reports, Yelp conducted a sting operation in which one of its employees pretended to be an “Elite” reviewer and responded to review solicitations on Craigslist. As the article explains:
A pest control company offered $5 to anyone who would post a review that the business itself had written. The moving company was willing to pay $50 but wanted original copy. An appliance repair shop provided a start: “I really appreciate that the service tech was on time, the problem was solved, everything was cleaned up and he was very professional. Please add 50 or more words,” the shop suggested. It would pay $30.
The highest payment was offered by a jewelry store in San Diego, which said it was forced to solicit reviews after others got away with doing it. “We have noticed that some of our larger, corporate run competitors have been unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on Yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage,” wrote Bert Levi of Levi Family Jewelers. He said he would pay $200 for a review of a new custom-designed ring.
This warning is now showing — and will remain for three months — on the Levi Family Jewelers profile page on Yelp, and on the pages of seven other businesses that Yelp says it caught trying to buy reviews:
That’s not all Yelp is doing. You can see that the word “here” at the end is blue — that’s a link to a JPG showing the correspondence that took place during Yelp’s sting.
Yelp has posted the evidence for its visitors to read. Here’s a portion of the original email allegedly from the business owner to the Yelp employee that was pretending to be an Elite reviewer.
“Bert” tells the reviewer that his company has noticed “some of our larger, corporate run competitors … unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage.”
Right or wrong, that’s emblematic of how competitive the reviews space is right now and how desperate business owners are to get positive reviews. The problem is perhaps worse on Yelp due its review filter, which can be very hit and miss when it comes to choosing reviews to show or hide. But it’s certainly not a problem that only Yelp faces; business owners can buy reviews for Google+, Amazon, app stores and other sites from sites like Fiverr, Freelancer.com and others.
Eric Singley, Yelp’s VP of Consumer and Mobile Products, tells the Times that the group of eight businesses being outed now “is just a sample” of businesses that are soliciting reviews.
The article implies that additional businesses were caught trying to buy ads and will later have the warning added to their pages. We’ve reached out to Yelp for more information about that and will update this article if and when we learn more.
Postscript: Shortly after publishing, a Yelp spokesperson sent us this statement: “If/as we find more, we will put consumer alert notices on their pages, as well.”