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Yelp hits the ground running with NZ launch

Yelp launches in NZ today.

During a pre-launch interview, vice-president of new markets Miriam Warren told NBR Online that Yelp.co.nz would go live with thousands of customer reviews of restaurants, cafes and various retailers already in place.

"It’s not very fun to go to a party with no booze or no food, so we've purchased a database of businesses and seeded the market with content.”

MORE: Read ex-Localist boss Blair Glubb's verdict on Yelp NZ's prospects, and more on the launch, in NBR's print edition tomorrow.

Certainly, there is a lot of content already in situ.

Ms Warren said Yelp has hired a local content manager, who is working from home, as staff in Australia and other territories the US site has expanded into over the past couple of years (Yelp won't name the person, saying the position has yet to be finalised).

For a solo operator, the Auckland-based community manager has certainly been busy, scaring up a small army of contributors.

Many restaurants and other establishments already have nine or 10 reviews.

Like all-comers, Yelp has faced controversy at times over fake reviews. So how did these ones appear immediately on Yelp NZ's first day?

Ms Warren said marketing contractors were used to help arrange the early content (if you know/can spot where Yelp bought its listings database, or have a bead on who it worked with for content, do spill by emailing ckeall@nbr.co.nz. In Australia, Yelp partnered with Sensis - the Telstra division that operates the Aussie Yellow Pages. Here, review content on Yellow Local is so moribund and scare that wouldn't appear to be an option.

[UPDATE: This morning a Yelp rep added: "In each new market Yelp uses a local ‘scouting party’ to propagate the site with reviews based on their experiences. This means there is existing content for new users on day one. (Each review of this type is marked by a ‘scout badge’). From launch day on its up to the local community to add their own reviews. And yes they are all exclusive to Yelp."]

NBR penned a quick note about a cafe in Mt Eden, which immediately went live on Yelp.co.nz. Businesses can respond publicly or privately, after the fact.

Yelp launched in San Francisco in 2004, practically inventing the concept of the customer review - or at least popularising it for the internet age.

Auckland in 2013 is a very different beast, of course.

Many businesses are on Facebook, harvesting likes and customer comments, have listed with NZ Post's Yelp-like Localist (which recently started expanding beyond Auckland), or have taken advantage of Localist and Yellow's role as Google Ad Words resellers (a core business for both companies these days). And then there's a half dozen sources of customer reviews, from Google Places to the likes of Menu Mania that clog the top of any search as you struggle to quickly find the URL to a restaurant's own website.

NBR noticed during sign-up that Yelp has some heavy-duty Facebook integration (see screen grabs below).

Click to zoom.

And Ms Warren sees other ways the site will make up time after being so late to the NZ party. An "elite squad" of prolific contributors is being assembled, along the lines of Localist's "The 100".

A basic business listing is free, as with other guides. For now, it's free for businesses to add their blurbs and photos, too. (There is a focus on Auckland with the pre-canned listings launched today, but businesses from anywhere in NZ can register).

Unlike some sites (think Wheedle, or the Localist and Yellow Local at launch), Yelp is launching with iPhone and Android apps - and mobile tools for businesses - already in place.

The company's got a lot of expertise, and scale. NZ is the 21st country it's launched in, and along the way its harvested 36 million customer reviews. It went public last year [NYSE:YELP] and ha a $US1.66 billion as of market close Tuesday – not bad a company that lost $US19 million on $US138 million revenue last year (it was profitable on an ebitda basis).

And then there's the power of the Yelp name.

Ex-Localist boss Glubb is not sure of the latter. Glubb is a big Yelp fan, and often described Localist as a Yelp for NZ when discussing it with clients. He was often met with blank stares. It's just not a brand New Zealanders know, he told NBR.

The US company is going full force to change that.

I hope so competition is good, and customer reviews are useful at a time when most publications are hamstrung by advertorial, or hostage to he opinions of a single critic.

But as for me, for now I'm going to stick with asking my Twitter (and Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn) followers for recommendation - from people I know, and whose tastes I'm familiar with.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

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Comments and questions
16

Suburb definition could do with a tidy up. Most Grey Lynn listings are in Ponsonby or West Lynn. Still, good looking start.

Looks like they bought their pre-populated database from someone pre-earthquake. Lots of out-of-date stuff in Christchurch.

Just added a business and wrote a review. Seems you can't just add the business without the loading the review, which makes it hard for business owners to simply add the business and allow others to review. It did say it may take up to 48 hours to add the business but it was live pretty much straight away.

Does anyone use these directories? I don't know anyone who does, but perhaps I am not the target market?

As for restaurant reviews, unless 50+ people have reviewed a place I tend to think they are just friends or enemies planting good or bad reviews. Half the time they seem like nonsense.

I agree that they have potential problems with weeding out friends or foe reviewers. It may seem trivial but malicious negative reviews planted by enemies could really do some damage and could be argued to amount to commercial sabotage. Would businesses have any recourse to these sites if they could prove they were deliberately malicious?

I also think that they have a motivation-to-review problem. People are much more likely to post a review if they have had an extreme experience (which may be atypical).

Yelp is a godsend when I'm working a city I don't know well. Open the app, pick a category of food, and it'll tell you what's good and close. Follow the map on your screen for a few minutes and you're sorted.

I lean on it heavily when travelling and will be adding reviews of my favourite Wellington and Auckland restaurants out of loyalty and desire to see the good succeed.

Oh my Kiwi friends, congrats. I was relocated back to LA by my Kiwi employer in 2006, and I for one could not live without Yelp. My daughters say I use it to find everything.
It's interface, check ins, and reviews are way easier than Facebook, and I prefer it to 4sq. Unlike 4sq, I can check in, send my check in and comments to Twitter or FB, write a review, and often get offers right from the business' page.

I found an honest guy to fix the ac in my car- not easy to find. I will read the tips and reviews when in a restaurant to find out what to try.

We have dietary concerns. I pop "vegan" and current location into Yelp all the time when in a neighborhood and find places with things I can eat. Easy Peasy! I found a place that made vegan Pho just around the corner last night.

In short, get out there, create content and make it better. They HAVE to seed it or its like a party no one shows up for (ahem, ebay.co.nz anyone?) But the concept of navigating by peer reviews and not advertisement? I'm ALL for that!
@techmktmistress

Yep, database is old - a quick look under Hamilton and lots of businesses have moved or closed. One listing even has the city as Hamilton, Otago.

I like Yelp in the US, because its useful. However, Yelp pretty much anywhere else really doesn't work as well because the data ages quickly, and they don't devote in-country resources to keep it fresh. Yelp in Australia has not been a success. Why would it be one in NZ? This party moved on a good while back...

I judge a review by the writer's punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling. If that reeks, so does the reviewer's opinion.

All I can say is that these scouts must have hit the various businesses on exceptional days or are easily satisfied...the seed reviews are glowing!

If you're going to populate content be balanced - as a consumer, where's the merit in reading content that is so obviously one-sided that it's credibility is lacking from the outset.

I looked in my area and everything was 4 or 5 stars.

From that do I take it that everything else is 3 starts or below or just that they haven't been reviewed yet?

Plus is a 4 star cheap restaurant the same as a 4 star expense restaurant or are they graded based on their price point?

The cynical view is that they would have been 'advised' to be overly generous after all, perspective advertisers (venues) are hardly going to go out of their way to advertise on a platform that's painting a less than positive picture.

The stars are based on their merits depending on the context they are seen in.

Looking forward to seeing how it develops. I'm not sure why it thinks I'm in Middleton Wisconsin, I guess its been a long time since I bothered using it. How are they going to get businesses using it any more than Foursquare, Localist, Facebook etc? Interesting how many reviewers have provided exactly 270 reviews. Didn't take long to figure out where they have come from...

In the US, Siri is integrated with yelp to help find restaurants, etc. Will this be the case in NZ?

I wish them well, and for consumers. It's a great service, although we take your point about Yelp having a low profile here. However, as we've noted in our own blog recently, http://www.digitalmarketing.co.nz these and other review directories are both good and evil for business. The consumer has the power now to make or break a business. In theory, the good and strong will last, but all these systems can be manipulated. The trick is for business owners to just embrace and then monitor their Yelp (or other) listings for bad comments and respond accordingly. Nothing is perfect in this arena, but I'm quite impressed with Yelp, especially their mobile apps, which are way better than what the locals here have managed. If I ran a good small restaurant I'd be on board like a shot and have signs up that encourage my patrons to join up and provide Yelp reviews.