Review culture

03 November 2014, 10:30 am
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

"Cheer Up Cheesemonger!" said the title of the review I discovered posted to my neighbour's TripAdvisor page. It wasn’t a review about his attraction, but all about my shop, and me

In fact the reviewer concluded by describing me with a four-letter word that even the Sex Pistols avoided when interviewed by Bill Grundy.

Despite that, I messaged the reviewer to let him know that he’d put his comments on my neighbour’s page, where his mid-range 3 star review would harm them, and not me. I then contacted Trip Advisor to ask them to transfer it to a new and shiny page that I’d asked to be set up a fortnight earlier. I also told them that I thought the reviewer’s choice of vocabulary was not ‘family-friendly’ as required under the terms of use. It duly cropped up on my page and later disappeared completely. Phew.

Everyone’s a critic these days; I used to breathe easy, knowing that shops weren’t covered under the Trip Advisor remit (I was prepared to live without the right to reply to any criticism placed on others’ pages). But that’s no longer the case – about a month ago, I discovered that a friend’s pet accessory store was ranked the number one shop in our town. It’s a great shop – Pug & Puffin, if you’re in Lyme Regis – but it stirred my competitive nature.

Shop listings on Trip Advisor offer a further opportunity for the British public to indulge in two of our favourite pastimes – boasting about having discovered a new gem, or taking a place with a reputation down a peg or two. There’s precious little middle ground occupied. Over the years we’ve experienced both ends of this continuum – bloggers gushing about what a fabulous find our shop is, and then some unpleasant anonymous letters and cards – particularly after winning Cheesemonger of the Year at the Farm Shop & Deli Awards earlier this year. I’d not thought of myself as “piggy-eyed” before reading one comment.

We’ve had a total of no more than half a dozen unpleasant reviews in various online media, and they are mostly stimulated by one thing. Owing to the small size of our shop, we display our cheeses in a multi-deck, rather than a range of serve-over counters. We try to address each customer as they come in and ask them to let us handle the cheese; we have – let me count them – 8 signs – and use humour (‘Brie prodders will be tazered’) to stop customers from fingering the goods. Nonetheless, some people don’t like having boundaries set for them and react angrily to being asked not to handle the cheese. They flounce out of the shop, leaving other customers embarrassed – some of those remaining have even apologised on behalf of the flouncers!

If the review appears on the correct page, the establishment owner has a right to reply. When responding to a review, I try to remember that I’m unlikely to be able to pacify the troll/reviewer, but I do get an opportunity to come across as reasonable and decent to those who may read his review. So we state that we don’t set out to give customers a hard time, but that it’s important for every customer to experience our cheeses at their best, which doesn’t include finger marks and bruising from browsers’ prodding. Our happy customers vastly outnumber the flouncers, so it seems to be the correct recipe. We’re now encouraging satisfied and delighted customers to add their own reviews – only in that way can the negative review be seen as the exception rather than the norm.

Somewhat strangely, Trip Advisor has our store listed as an Activity, rather than as a Shop. My wife thinks that the activities that are suggested must be Brie-prodding and Flouncing Out. She may have a point. I’m hoping to get us transferred to Shop status, but Trip Advisor’s admin wheels can grind slowly, so we’ll see what transpires.

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