GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Several local businesses are upset with the popular online review site, Yelp. The businesses think the company is using aggressive sales tactics and not showing all the comments on its site.
Lisa Licari and her husband John opened Licari's Sicilian Pizza Kitchen in 2012. So far, they've gotten good reviews and have a four star rating on Yelp, but Lisa thinks it could be better. There are several five star reviews that aren't being shown. Lisa says when a sales rep called, she asked him why? "They'll say to me, 'Yes those are your five star reviews.' Well, how come those aren't showing? 'Well, if you'd like to pay to advertise, we can release those for you,'" she explained.
Lisa felt like she was being bribed. That's how Jenna Arcidiacono felt too; her restaurant, Amore Trattoria Italiana, opened in 2010. It also gets four stars on Yelp. "They call you and say, 'How about you advertise with us? We can work something out.' I said no, that's sketchy."
Yelp says there has never been any amount of money a business can pay to manipulate reviews, nor does its "automation recommendation software" punish those who don't advertise.
But Jenna disagrees. "If you're anything above a four star, it's a miracle."
A video on the company's website demonstrates how that recommendation software is used to showcase more reliable content, by filtering out some of the reviews, good or bad.
"I'm not concerned about bad reviews, every business gets them and we're open to that. I'm concerned about how Yelp is run," says Lisa.
A check on the Better Business Bureau's website shows over 1,400 complaints against Yelp. But the company still has an A+ rating. The BBB says it did a review of the company this year and found no aggressive or deceptive advertising practices. The BBB felt Yelp also promptly responded to the complaints.
Both Lisa and Jenna say they have stopped looking at Yelp. Although they get good reviews, they don't agree with the way it's done. They hope any customer with a complaint will come to them instead of just writing about it online.
Here is the full statement from Yelp:
"First of all, I want to make it 100% clear that there has never been any amount of money a business can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews, nor does our automated recommendation software "punish" those who don't advertise. An independent study conducted by Professor Michael Luca of Harvard Business School supports this.
It's important we get the names of the businesses making these claims so that we can investigate their allegations. Yelp sells search advertising and enhanced profiles to business owners allowing them to get the word out about their products and services. Our salespeople undergo rigorous training and stick to approved scripts. Review manipulation is not something our sales reps would promise a business owner because it's not something they could deliver. Businesses who do not wish to advertise with Yelp can simply request to be placed on our Do Not Call list. If they have said they aren't interested "at this time," it's likely our sales team will try back at another time.
Yelp is a branded consumer guidebook meant to show the collective opinion of the Yelp community. Our automated recommendation software is in place to help us highlight the most helpful and reliable reviews, emphasizing the Yelp community and avoiding fake or biased content. Reviews that are not recommended appear on a separate page and do not factor into a business' overall star rating. Of the millions of reviews submitted to Yelp, we only recommend about 75% of them. The reason over 100 million people come to Yelp each month for recommendations about local businesses is because they trust the content on our site."