April 10, 2009

Yelp To Allow Businesses Public Replies To Reviews

The review & recommendation Web site Yelp will soon allow businesses and others to respond publicly to negative customer comments, according to an email the company sent out Thursday to some of its most active users.

The e-mail was sent to solicit feedback about the upcoming feature, which would let businesses under review post replies to users' comments.

The businesses must first sign up for a free business owner's account. Yelp will then notify users when a business has replied to their comment.

Currently, businesses wishing to challenge a review or correct any mistakes can only contact the reviewer via Yelp.  Businesses have had no way to post a direct reply on the site itself -- a policy business owners have long criticized. 

Yelp plans to activate the new reply feature within the next couple weeks.

The San Francisco-based company's decision to add the new feature comes after complaints from businesses that were reviewed on the site.  Media reports have pointed to other issues as well, such as allegations from businesses that Yelp offered to conceal or disguise negative reviews or highlight positive ones in exchange for advertising revenue.

But Yelp denies these allegations, calling them a misunderstanding.

Jeremy Stoppelman, the company's co-founder and chief executive, told the Associated Press that Yelp had been considering allowing businesses to comment on customer reviews for some time. 

The company is well aware of "concerns of business owners, especially when it comes to factual disputes," he said.

Although Yelp had been concerned that businesses might use the feature to argue with users, Stoppelman said the private interactions between reviewers and businesses have been mostly positive so far.  That, he said, has made the company more comfortable about adding the direct-reply feature.

"We're confident business owners will realize they're talking in public and that they need to put their best foot forward," Stoppelman said.


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