A San Francisco restaurant owner claims that a Groupon sales rep threatened him with bad Yelp reviews after an unsuccesful sales pitch. News of the incident spread when Trip Hosley — the owner of the Sauce restaurants — posted the text of the alleged threatening email from Groupon sales rep Andrew Johnston to Sauce's Facebook page:
I sincerely appreciate you hanging up on me. As a resident of San Francisco for over 25 years, I have a huge network of friends (ages 25-40) that all are extremely active on Yelp as well as other social media. I will gladly let them know how you treated me as well as my feelings about the people who run Sauce.
According to the Facebook post, Hosley had hung up on Johnston because of a prior bad experience with Groupon. He claims to have written in reply to Johnston: "We had a relationship with Groupon, Groupon messed it up, we no longer want to have a relationship with Groupon, end of story." Since the Facebook post, there have been a slew of new five star reviews as well as a few one-star reviews on Sauce's Yelp page (the one star reviews appear to have been deleted).
All Things D reports that Groupon is "investigating" the incident and has suspended Johnston "from interacting with other merchants." When asked for comment, a Yelp spokesperson stuck to basic corporate speak saying businesses can flag questionable reviews and reply publicly. Yelp also notes that consumers can see information about reviewers and use that to judge review validity.
While Yelp extortion is nothing new, it's an extremely harmful sales tactic. Hosley tells All Things D: "even with a business account there does not seem to be a fast way for a small business to combat this type of threat and action by a disgruntled sales rep and see immediate action taken by the larger company (in this case either by Groupon or Yelp) in time to stop the damage." Despite Yelp's claims that they are improving at spotting fake reviews, this incident just goes to show how potentially harmful fake reviews can be. And now that Yelp offers people the opportunity to review from their phone, revenge reviewing will be easier for slimy sales reps than ever before.
UPDATE:: All Things D confirms that Groupon rep Andrew Johnston has been fired. Groupon says Johnston's behavior was an "isolated incident," and will not be changing their sales training programs.
· Groupon Suspends Sales Rep While It Investigates Thinly Veiled Yelp Review Threat [All Things D via ISSF]
· All Groupon Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Yelp Coverage on Eater [-E-]