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How Online Review Sites Affect Small Businesses

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Written By:

on August 16th, 2016

This was posted in Shop Info.

Coffee Labs is sometimes asked about our opinion of Yelp and other online review sites and how we deal with their impact on our business. We’ve always held ourselves back from actually sharing our opinion in writing, but at this point we think it’s time.

We’ve all used a site like yelp at one point or another. Whether to find a good place to eat close by or the perfect place to have dinner for a special occasion, we want to know what to expect when visiting a new place. No one wants to give over their hard earned money for a bad product or service, and yelp and sites like it can help prevent that.

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It’s also a great place to post pictures!

However this is the Internet we’re talking about, and people on the Internet can very harsh. Think about the comments section on any YouTube video. Does it call to mind good natured, intelligent people? Of course not! Everywhere you find a comments section online, you find angry people with angry opinions who want to shout louder than the rest of us and will say whatever they can for attention. Why would a place like yelp be any different?

When we don’t have to confront a person face to face, some people feel they can be brutal.

We’ve been opened for about thirteen years at Coffee Labs, and we’ve had a yelp page for about eight of them. Generally the reviews on our yelp page are good, and we are thankful to the people who take time out of their busy schedule to write those reviews. We also can’t stress enough how much we appreciate the constructive negative reviews we receive there. If someone tells us that the floor near the condiment bar was dirty and that it detracted from his or her overall experience, you can be damned sure that we cleaned that floor, and quickly. If someone didn’t like their coffee for whatever reason, we cup the coffee and check the roast to make sure we are giving people the best product we can provide. We genuinely care about the customer experience, and we do what we can to make it better. Customers make us who we are,  and online review sites are a good place for people to express these opinions.

That being said, sometimes people spread false information about our business for their own personal gain or satisfaction. That’s what we want to focus on here in this blog. We want to focus on the people who post patently false reviews on yelp because they either think it’s funny, or they feel entitled or wronged in some way so they want to harm our business.

One particular one star review involves our credit card policy. We accept credit and debit cards on purchases over $5. This is to cover the costs associated with credit and debit card processing, which as a small business we need to offset. It’s not that we want to inconvenience our customers; it’s just the reality of running a small business.

This reviewer had such a big problem with our policy that they felt it was necessary to accuse of committing several crimes for causing her such an inconvenience. We’re not going to mention them by name, but in their review they accused us of not paying our taxes and breaking the law by not accepting their debit card, which carries exactly the same fees as a credit card. You can read the full text of the review below.

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Screenshot of the review.

“Ten dollar minimum on credit cards is absolutely ridiculous when a cup of coffee is less than 10 dollars. So instead of credit card, I offered my debit card and they told me the same thing. A minimum of 10 dollars. In case you weren’t aware, it is illegal to have a minimum on a debit card. There are no fees that have to be paid. I explained this to the employees and they just shrugged. 

Pay your taxes like the rest of us instead of trying to get cash only. And the employees are so pretentious and talk down on you if you’re new to coffee. Like sorry I have a full time job and didn’t choose to be a barista for my whole life. Get a grip. This place is ridiculous and I honestly hope they go out of business.”

Lying about someone’s business practices in order to harm their reputation is libel, which is against the law. Accusing someone of not paying their taxes and breaking the law, is breaking the law. When we called yelp to try to have this review taken down, they said this person was entitled to their “opinion” and the review stayed up.

Yelp is a very one sides organization, no matter how much they try to claim that they are good for businesses. They almost always side with the reviewer, even if the business has proof that what they are saying is false. There’s no fact checking or oversight at all. It’s just another unregulated comment’s section.

Another reviewer, who has since taken all his reviews down, was so cruel it made Alicia cry. He said, “Going to Coffee labs was like sleeping with your ex-wife, you go back because it is familiar, but it’s not good.” Imagine if someone came into your workplace and publicly condemned your work in that way in front of your co-workers. Anyone would find it degrading and belittling.

The thing is, Coffee Labs is lucky in a way. A yelp page was created for us about eight years ago now, and we have done our best to earn the current 4 stars overall that we have there. However, people like the ones detailed here or people who feel entitled to things we simply cannot provide can potentially ruin a business. Remember when we mentioned earlier that you probably haven’t set foot in a shop or restaurant with less than a three star review in a long time? Well what if one of those places had just gotten started? What if the reviewer who called our coffee “bitter piss” and praised the competition down the street in their review had been the first review on our page and we had a one star average immediately. It would have taken a huge amount out of our bottom line. We place far too much stock in the opinions of every day, entitled and angry people who have serve only their own interests or sometimes the interests of another business. Reviews are a necessary part of a commercial society, but reviews on places like yelp need to be taken a little less seriously.

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