In case you weren't already worried about bad Yelp reviews now there's even more reason to fear them, especially when you're just starting out.

“When customers are very uncertain with regards to their preferences, they tend to purchase products or services that they do not like and leave bad reviews. If they so happen to be one of the first customers to rate the business, the bad review is a condemnation to death,” reads a recent Cornell University study of Yelp reviews.

The reason that early review matters so much is that it skews the overall rating of the company, according to Vocativ. And, as the study points out, Yelp reviews are taken to be pretty objective.

Hence, the study states, a business in its early stages is “at the mercy of the subjectivity of its customers.”

“In theory, some businesses could die simply because they were first approached by the wrong customers; others could be overrated by similar mechanisms. In the long run however, one would expect the online rating to converge to an objective measure of a business’s quality,” the study states.

Researchers did not survey actual businesses but relied on mathematical analysis and simulations, according to Vocativ. 

The findings show that while Yelp isn’t performing so well as a business itself, it is still a force to contend with for those beholden to its ratings. 

Earlier this week, investigative reporting nonprofit ProPublica published a story about Yelp reviews of health care facilities. The story brought to light one dental chain that had drawn 3,000 mostly pretty awful reviews. The Washington Post reported that Yelp is adding data such as wait times and statistics about readmission rates to review pages for medical facilities.

So, those bad reviews later on may not ring a "death knell" per the Cornell study, but they still matter. 

Published on: Aug 7, 2015