Yelp and the Myth of Consumer Power

Sperber, Joshua

Publisher:  Counterpunch
Date Written:  09/05/2019
Year Published:  2019  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23721

Online reviews on Yelp have had a massive effect on the service industry but this should not be perceived as giving power to consumers. In the end it is only the platfrom that profits.




One server I spoke with reported that she "was once yelped about in a terrible and completely untrue way…. Reviewer had no history, no followers, one single review (about me) and their name was quite nearly that of a known enemy. I was suspended for five days." And another server told me that his coworker was fired from their Brooklyn restaurant after a vindictive ex-boyfriend had posted a vicious review of her....

In a manner that resembles but goes far beyond restaurants' conventional use of so-called Mystery Shoppers, the ubiquitous and intrusive surveillance performed by anonymous Yelp reviewers has increased workers' anxiety while turning customers into managers. It would be a mistake, however, to interpret this phenomenon as a manifestation of consumer power. On the contrary, online reviewing in some ways illustrates the overall weakness of consumers within contemporary capitalism, as management is highly selective in which customer criticisms they choose to address.

Take, for example, an average Yelp review, which undergoes a metamorphosis once it is in the hands of management. When reviewers criticize prices, food quality, or ambience, management's typical response is a variation of, in the words of an owner of a small Italian restaurant, "Maybe they ought to go to another restaurant."
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