Wednesday, March 24, 2010

To Yelp or Not to Yelp

By now, most folks have heard about all the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Yelp and whether or not the folks there try to "extort" business owners by promising removal of negative reviews, top placement in searches for their category, etc. in exchange for paid advertising on the social networking, user review website. Here at GROVE STREET kids we have not been immune to the incessant sales calls (and emails) from their reps, though we will say that, after a long chat with one of their friendlier sales people, he offered to put us on a "Do Not Call" list and we haven't heard from them since.

That particular phone call was a gentleman trying to get GROVE STREET kids to become a "sponsored result." Those are the businesses listed at the top of the review section on a business page that suggest that "You Might Also Consider..." The benefits of which, but not limited to, he explained, were being found in the top 5 of the search results when customers searched for businesses like mine. So, for fun, I asked him to do a search with me for Resale Shops in Berkeley. Not only did GSK come up in the top five, we were the 2nd result (today as I write this, we are the first result). So I thanked him for the call and politely declined the need for paid advertising. He couldn't really argue with me about it and, I think, it was at that point he offered to put me on the "Do Not Call" list.

Like most businesses reviewed on Yelp, we presume, GSK has a love/hate relationship with the contentious website. We love it when folks take time out of their busy lives and schedules to write lovely things about our shop and their shopping experiences. We hate (and I use that word only as a euphemism -it is such a strong word) when our lovely reviews go away. We actually have 18 reviews, not 11 as is shown. The website claims that "[t]he review may have been suppressed by Yelp's automated software system. This system decides how established a particular reviewer is and whether a review will be shown based on the reviewer's involvement on Yelp. While this may seem unfair to you, this system is designed to protect both consumers and businesses alike from fake reviews (i.e., a malicious review from a competitor or a planted review from an employee). The process is entirely automated to avoid human bias, and it affects both positive and negative reviews. It's important to note that these reviews are not deleted (they are always shown on the reviewer's public profile) and may reappear on your business page in the future."

It is true, they do "stay" in cyberspace. Another thing we like about Yelp is the ability to bookmark the reviews so that folks can see them all, even when not posted on our page. We've place an "Announcement" (yet another thing we like) that supplies the link on the Yelp page for our customers to peruse.

Part of the controversy about Yelp stems from the idea that Business Owners don't like having bad reviews and want them removed and are told they will be removed if they become a "sponsored result" advertiser. Of course, no business really wants a bad review, and we will admit to feeling like we were raked over the coals after our first less than stellar review, which we received a few months ago. In a panic response to seeing our brightly 5-star rating dwindle down to 4.5 (gasp!) stars, we called upon some of our favorite customers to write honest reviews in the hopes of bringing our average back up. Two more folks spoke up (but one has "disappeared") and, coincidentally, Yelp "pulled" the bad review at the same time, and our glowing 5-star rating returned.

Our viewpoint now, however, is that negative reviews actually provide some legitimacy to the many positive reviews previously posted. No business is ever going to be able to please all of the people, all of the time. But we feel that the way in which a review is worded or written speaks for itself as to the authenticity of it's reviewer. The aforementioned review, which in hindsight we should have bookmarked as well - but who wants to keep track of negative stuff? - was all about a person's observation of another customer's experience, not even their own.

Recently, yesterday, to be exact, an "unsatisfied" customer, took the time to write a not-so-pleasant-and-would-have-left-no-stars-if-they-could-have review about our business. No, we did not bookmark it, as it is still on the Yelp sight. Upon first reading it, my first thought, of course, was to respond to it (another "plus" for Yelp - Business Owners are allowed to publicly "respond" to reviews), to apologize for her negative experience. But, then I thought to myself, if I were looking at a business review page myself and came across one scathing review amongst many positive ones, what would I do?

So I proceeded to read the other reviews that this person posted which, coincidentally, included of all the other resale shops in the area. They were all bad, save one. At that point, I figured, if folks are going to take the time to find out about us on Yelp then they are going to go through the same process I just mentioned, and would "read" exactly what I did. And, interestingly enough, some folks came into the store yesterday for the first time and mentioned that they read about us on Yelp. The woman in the couple said she doesn't even look at the "sponsored results" because she knows they are "paid for." She said she only goes by the reviews, good and bad, that people leave, and you can tell which ones are legitimate. All this before we even saw the latest review.

Finally, we'd like to say that we believe that Yelp offers a beneficial service to the community, even if not entirely on the up and up (the jury's still out on that one). And, at this point, we at GROVE STREET kids would just like to take the opportunity to, again, thank all those people who have taken the time to spread the good word about us. We greatly appreciate your patronage!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Honesty is the best policy.

I love meeting new people everyday. I love talking to folks. I love seeing my regular, neighborhood families come in and tell me how much they enjoying shopping at GROVE STREET kids. These are just some of the many pleasures I derive from running my own business.

Some of the things I don't love are picking up after someone else's kids or finding unwrapped or damaged merchandise after the the customer has left. But for a small business, especially a retail business, these things are part and parcel of running a store that caters to kids and their families.

One thing that I dread dealing with, and have yet to actually confront someone about, is shoplifting. I know it's happened, in one form or another: tag-switching, returned items that have been used and claimed not to be, or just down-right walking off with something without paying for it. I've never actually seen it happen at GROVE STREET kids, and even if I were to, I'm not sure how I would handle it. Can you imagine having to walk up to a five or six year old child, after seeing him or her surreptitiously putting a little toy or purse I have for sale in his or her pocket and saying "I'm sorry, honey, but before you can take that home, Mommy or Daddy has to pay for it." Frankly, I hope that day never comes.

So imagine my surprise when, upon my arrival to work this morning, I opened the front door to find a little leather bracelet that I sell on the floor, next to an envelope with the words "I'm Srreey" scribbled in a child's hand on it; obviously dropped through the mail slot by the "culprit's" parent. It took just a moment for me to realize what had happened and, upon closer inspection, I noticed the envelope was actually sealed. I opened it to find a lovely drawing of rainbows and sunshine on one side of the paper,
and a letter of admission of guilt and an apology
on the other.

It read, roughly: "Dear Store. I stole this bracelet yesterday. I'm Sorry."

It was very clear to me that this child probably had no idea that what he or she did was wrong- "what does 'stole' mean, mommy?" Or maybe s/he didn't know just how wrong it was. Who knows? S/he simply saw something that sparked his or her interest and helped themselves. What warmed my heart about it, aside from the hearts and the butterflies, was that the parent saw fit to recognize that the misdeed had to be corrected and had the child not only return the bracelet, but apologize for taking it. I'm certain the child learned a valuable lesson. But what is more important, in my view, was the example that was set. In my business, it just doesn't happen enough.