Friday, August 2, 2013

How Yelp Protects Corporate Interests Against Private Shoppers

Becket Adams makes it sound as if Yelp's uncensored "business review" pages are allowing corporate interests to destroy small businesses left and right. Who knows...maybe they are...

But here I stand to testify that Yelp aggressively defends big corporations' outlets from unfavorable reviews by mere individual shoppers. How dare we ordinary people imagine that a big-chain store is there to please customers, the way our own little ventures are.

When I joined Yelp, I wrote several favorable reviews of local businesses, and one very mildly unfavorable review of the Food Lion store in Gate City. Trust me, Gentle Readers, unless you've spent a very long, hot summer without a refrigerator, walking more than three miles to buy any fresh or frozen food you can't pick in the back yard, every day, and then instead of appreciating your loyalty the store employees have scolded you for buying one refrigerated item at a time and wrapping it up so you could carry it three miles in 95-degree heat, you have no way to imagine how mild this review is:


This must be one of the Food Lion stores scheduled for closing this year. Item after item has disappeared from the shelves; in some cases all that's left on the shelves are inferior store-brand substitutes. (How inferior are the store brands? I checked six cans of store-brand salted peanuts. ALL SIX smelled moldy.) Prices on groceries that are still in stock are 50% to 100% higher than they were within the last two years. And the staff are overtly rude.


I checked back in two weeks. Big surprise--none of my reviews of any business was visible. I investigated further. Yelp had decided I wasn't a real local shopper...although I'd supplied them with a link to this web site, which is, whatever else you may think of it, obviously written by a responsible adult who has interests other than annoying people. They were hiding everything I'd written. Isn't that special. So someone else "friended" me on Yelp, and posted this review:


What's this foreign-owned business doing here? Last time I was there, a manager was telling a customer that they were NOT there to please customers. Only their European overlords. Maybe that explains the growing prices, shrinking selections, and stale food!


Nobody had posted any favorable comments on this store. Not then, and not ever. The legitimate way for businesses to defend themselves against hostile reviews is to encourage satisfied customers to write favorable reviews. Other Food Lion stores have received favorable reviews. Not this one.

Anyway, since my favorable reviews of other stores had been uncovered, I wrote an even more mild review of our local Food Lion store to see whether that one would show up:

People who drive to Thriftway and Food City have asked why I go to this store. One reason: location--this is the shortest walk from home. And sometimes they do still have the lowest price on something that's not a store brand...but that's becoming very rare these days. This week's top Food Lion story was that they gave out lots of coupons on a new name-brand item (cake icing) and then didn't have any of the name-brand item, but they had a big display of the store-brand substitute, for which of course the coupons weren't applicable.


What happened? As of today, Yelp's still hiding all three reviews: this web page probably won't open for you on the first three attempts...

So, what can I say about Yelp? I no longer bother with it, nor does the blogger known as Ronia. It's not what it pretends to be. It's not real.
I can tell you a whole lot more about our local Food Lion, the store that has yet to issue an apology or a refund for selling me the tin of beans that had the long-drowned cockroach floating in it. I've been mulling how much of this to share with you for about as long as this web site has existed. I really think this store deserves to die; I've been hoping to persuade a rich relative to buy the building and lease the supermarket space to saner people. (If you have rich relatives, you know the drill--you don't ask them for money, but you can, from time to time, recommend investments that'd be good for them.)

Basically this store is run by a timid little man who's nominally supervising two extra-large females who couldn't look more like a really bad stereotype of a lesbian couple if they tried, and a bunch of children (plus one senior citizen) hired for their shallow, stupid, "outgoing" personalities rather than ability to do their jobs. The first time one of these females loomed up in my face and physically threatened me, I thought her behavior was just that old bullies-are-cowards syndrome (I'm 5'4" and not obese), but I realized she really is a victim of a biochemical disorder after seeing her physically threaten a big, healthy-looking young man. These characters realize that their market consists of about 90% local people for whom trading with less obnoxious people is physically difficult for one reason or another, and they think they can get away with as much price-gouging, overt cheating, and insolence toward customers as they want, since after all the people to whom they are nominally accountable are never going to see their faces. All the "improvements" to the front side of the store that have been made in the last five years are the kind stores make for the purpose of enabling employees to ring up purchases dishonestly.

Would Food Lion headquarters care to sue me for posting this information on my web site? Let'em try it. If, as Food Lion staff claims, the store maintains videotapes of everything that goes on, those tapes can be used to prove that everything I've said, and more, is true.

Well...last summer I talked to several other people who don't appreciate the behavior of the crew at our local Food Lion. Some of them were personal friends of mine, some weren't. One was a bisexual man, and one had publicly expressed an intention to vote for Obama. Some were related to me, and some were strangers I met in the store or on the road--usually while walking one more mile in order to spend my grocery money somewhere other than Food Lion. Car pools were organized. Although I'm car-free and believe in shopping locally, I joined the hundreds of Scott County residents who drive out of Gate City to avoid buying groceries from Food Lion. I did most of my grocery shopping in Kingsport, in Duffield, in Norton, and even in Jonesville, in 2012. I am still doing most of my grocery shopping on car-pool trips outside my home town, and buying other things from small stores or in the Friday Market; let's just say that I've connected with enough people who share my opinion of Food Lion that I've not had to walk that extra mile to buy groceries in Weber City in 2013.

Meanwhile, Yelp management are sitting on their wimpy hands in San Francisco, claiming to doubt what they could easily verify online even from their office, about Food Lion's inflated prices, store-brand merchandise, and non-local ownership. Hah.

I suggest adding to the list of Businesses That Deserve To Die.