Is your business this vulnerable to Online Reviews?

A fraudulent feast for Google and Yelp

It might seem crazy, but if you take a quick look at the reviews garnered by Feast in New York City this month, you can see a rather strange use of Yelp and Google reviews.

The review that started the trend was by a consumer called Katy Kasmai. She stated that she was ‘denied service on a Sunday afternoon for wearing Google Glass’. Not quite the way the restaurant put it – all she had to do was remove the item, but she chose not to.

Following this consumer’s outburst in a blog post on Google+, 1.4 million people read her post and around 13 Google Glass users took to the keyboards to expound solidarity and their freedom to film whomever they like whenever they like. They dropped Feast’s star rating from a 4.5 to 2.4 in one fell swoop

So much for the right to privacy. As far as those people are concerned, the Constitution must be no more than an irritant.

What really stands out about this particular case is the reaction of other consumers on the side of the restaurant. Compared to the few that stood up for their right to wear whatever intrusive eye-wear they liked, several hundred others on both Yelp and Google stood up for the restaurant and their own rights to eat without being videoed.

Feast went from having around 26 reviews on Google+, to 391 in the space of a week. That 2.4 stars is nothing more than a bad dream now. Not only that, many of the reviewers on both Yelp and Google openly admitted that they hadn’t even been to the restaurant and were never likely to. Check out these enthusiastic reviewers on Yelp. Some of them are even from California!

As a business owner, ask yourself what’s wrong with this picture?

You got it in one. How is it right that people who haven’t visited a restaurant can leave reviews for it?

It doesn’t matter what the cause is, or how righteous someone feels, a business review should not be left by people who have not visited it before.

It’s called fraud, no matter what the reasoning

Why not? Because that’s a form of fraud. It crosses from the realm of ‘opinion’ and becomes ‘false fact’. Fraud is forbidden in business and law and for very good reasons. Duping the audience is not the idea. Although many of the reviewers who posted a five-star review for Feast this week were very open about their status, this type of thing does happen all the time for very different reasons, and this particular instance serves to highlight a serious flaw in Yelp and Google’s review systems.

The fact is that any system that allows reviewers to leave a rating and a comment after they have left the business is leaving itself open for abuse. Yelp and Google can talk all they like about their algorithms and their fraud squads, but when reviews like these are flooding the system, there is little to be said in defense.

The alternative is not to avoid reviews altogether, but to use a different system. Preferably one that doesn’t make it so easy for fraud to take place.

 

Photo provided by Deposit Photos, Vector ID:43050765

 
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