San Francisco based Yelp Inc.’s business practices are being questioned. Multiple business owners have reported that the company has contacted them on numerous occasions, asking them if they want negative reviews on their profiles removed – for a price.

A Livermore, CA nail salon owner reports she was shocked at Yelp’s proposal, and stopped taking their calls. “They wanted a lot of money to remove the bad comments. They would call every day and ask for the owner. I just started telling them [the owner] wasn’t here,” she explains. “My husband [who works with me] said to them, ‘This is not Asia!…This is USA! We have ethical businesses here!”

Another East Bay business owner, a chiropractor, complains of the same Yelp practices, and warns other business owners about them.

A San Francisco Bay area fast food franchise owner claims that she knows “more than one business owner who have been ‘bullied’ by Yelp into advertising so that good reviews showed up.”

Yelp also has some interesting policies on how it handles customer reviews. When responding to a complaint that “positive” reviews are not showing up, Yelp customer service responds, “not all reviews make the cut, even some legitimate ones.” Even after multiple requests, the business owners, a real estate team, still can’t get Yelp to post the two additional positive reviews submitted by their clients. The last complaint was ignored entirely.

Comments by both business owners and users suggests that Yelp “blackmails” businesses by suggesting that if they pay for advertising both negative reviews will be removed and positive ones will show up.

It seems that the word is getting out; So is Yelp’s reputation – and it doesn’t look good. In April, 2012, in response to business and user complaints, Yelp felt it necessary to make two adjustments to their site. Their corporate blog announced, “…we’re adding the ability to see reviews filtered by our review filter and we’re discontinuing the ‘Favorite Review’ feature that’s part of our advertising package.” This means that reviews that were previously hidden by yelp (whether positive or negative and whether businesses paid Yelp anything before they were removed) are now available but only by going to a special area site (which this author still hasn’t found). The “Favorite Review” feature displayed more positive reviews first.

How effective have Yelp’s changes in response to such customer complaints been? Its questionable. The default sorting for yelp reviews is the “Yelp sort.” To see reviews by date or rating, the user must make a conscious effort to seek out and click on a button for that sort. And clearly customers and businesses are still complaining about the company’s practices.

It sounds as if Yelp needs to do a better review of its policies and see what other changes are needed to avoid continued complaints, a questionable future – or even worse, a legal inquiry.

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