Who’s Afraid of Yelp?

With some 30 million reviews and an average of 78 million unique visitors per month, Yelp is a bigwig in the world of online reviews. Following its launch here on September 14, we revisit the topic of amateur food reviewing, after the food critic cover story we did in April (See is.gd/foodcriticsinsingapore).
Why here?
Singapore is Yelp’s first Asian market and with good reason. We have an ample pool of potential reviewers for Yelp to draw on. After all, the site’s target demographic is a young, well-educated, high-earning lot (See Quick Facts).
Miriam Warren, Vice President of New Markets, Yelp Inc., explains, “Singapore is home to a vibrant and well-connected melting pot of cultures. It also boasts the world’s third highest per capita income, more than five million people, and English as the common language; considerations that present an attractive market expansion opportunity.”
What’s good?
Yelp presents a full spectrum of lifestyle categories. “Yelp helps people find cool places to live life, from bookstores to dog groomers, from dentists to dry cleaners,” says Warren. In fact, shopping is the largest category of reviewed businesses on Yelp (23 percent) with restaurants a close second at 21 percent, followed by home services (11 percent).
It’s also more socially driven than sites like Street Directory with its in-depth user profiles, where members share photos, interests and even personal details (like their secret crushes) online. So there’s a strong sense of community.
What’s bad?
Yelp caters to a different market of users than Singapore-based companies. New establishments on HungryGoWhere include fresh local places while Yelp’s list of new businesses is tourist-centric, and even includes Maxwell Food Center (how that counts as new is beyond us).
Articles too seem to be by and for foreigners. Users post articles like “A Weekend in Singapore: touristy things that tourists do” and the Talk pages are similarly slanted.
Are restaurateurs worried?
Restaurant owners seem cautiously optimistic. Antoine Rouland, founder and co-owner of French bistro and wine bar O Batignolles, says, “I think Yelp will help increase the exposure and visibility of restaurants with the added online presence.”
Jeremy Nguee, chef-owner of fusion eatery Preparazzi, feels, “Many Singaporeans still rely on Google to look for things. If they need an opinion, they’ll just use Facebook. But it might eventually succeed if good reviews and services get listed.”
If you ask us, HungryGoWhere and other Singapore sites are for the locals. But Yelp already has a strong international following. Though its Singapore reviews read like something out of Fodors or TripAdvisor, Yelp seems to know its market of expats and tourists. So will Yelp succeed? Our guess is that it will—in a niche market. But if we’re searching for the best lor mee or sambal stingray, we’ll be looking elsewhere.
, Who’s Afraid  of Yelp?Nothing But a Number?
Last month, a paper in The Economic Journal found that a half-star difference in a Yelp rating could drastically change the number of reservations made at a restaurant on a given day. This was true even for eateries with close scores (say 3.24 and 3.26), as the numbers were rounded into half-star categories like 3.0 and 3.5.
Quick Facts
founded in San Francisco
million visitors monthly
million reviews as of June
of US users are aged 18-24
of US users have at least a college degree
of US users earn upwards of US$150,000 (S$183,540) a year
billion in value at its IPO in March