Truth in Commerce – Learning from Yelp

Go Lean Commentary

Small businesses are the backbone of Caribbean economies; same too in North America and Europe. Imagine then, small business owners doing everything just right, applying all best-practices and then boom, someone comes along with mis-truths and completely undermines their quality work. This is villainous!

This has happened, time and again; and now with the internet culture, the villains do not have to try too hard.

Consider this experience from the San Francisco Bay Area, with a Chinese-Hunan Restaurant in Millbrae, California named “Wonderful”:

CU Blog - Truth in Commerce - Learning from Yelp - Photo 1At Wonderful, perhaps the best of the Bay Area’s new Hunan restaurants, dishes are riddled with pickled peppers and fermented black beans, and the menu is stocked with the steamed dishes, smoked meats and dry hot pots that define the regional cuisine to many Chinese eaters.

Owner Junsong Xue moved to the Bay Area from China 18 years ago to pursue a business master’s at Cal State Hayward. His twin brother stayed in Beijing, where he built a Hunan restaurant empire called Cai Xiang Gen.

After managing Mimi’s Cafe in San Mateo for 11 years, Junsong persuaded his twin to open a California branch of Cai Xiang Gen in Millbrae. It took the Xue family two years to build out the space, installing wood-framed booths, birdcage lights and a large television playing documentaries about Hunan cuisine. They opened the restaurant in April, with chefs from the chain’s Chinese branches circulating through the kitchen, training cooks and ensuring quality. – Restaurant Review posted January 19, 2015 by the San Francisco Chronicle’s online site “SF Gate”; retrieved April 1, 2015 from:

CU Blog - Truth in Commerce - Learning from Yelp - Photo 2

CU Blog - Truth in Commerce - Learning from Yelp - Photo 3

This is best-practices personified…

… and then:

A Yelp* reviewer named Dan W. recently went to Wonderful in Millbrae and found the experience less than satisfactory. He gave the Hunan restaurant a “one star” and stated, “I was flying solo that night, after a particularly challenging day. The waiter came up and asked how many. I said one, I had planned to sit at the bar or get the food to go. She said “one? no, one?” and then ran off. I waited a minute at the door, and then left. They were busy and potentially understaffed. It’s not that classy of a place, but they refused to seat me.”

Basically, Dan W. claimed Wonderful wouldn’t seat a party of one, even though he was having a challenging day. The folks at Wonderful found Dan’s account of events challenging to believe, so they reviewed some surveillance footage. The restaurant figured out who Dan W. was and found him entering the restaurant, indeed solo (and after a challenging day.) Dan W. never spoke to anyone, took a look around, and promptly left. Wonderful responded with a dramatic and lengthy response to Dan with their video evidence.

Dan deleted his review, and their Yelp page is now [only] awash in 5-star reviews.

Here is Wonderful’s response to Dan W., complete with video evidence:

“Do Not Mess With Wonderful”. Claim the management, “Dan, we didn’t refuse to seat you. You refused to wait in line like everyone else. You thought you were special, so special that you don’t have to follow the rules. That’s not true, we caught you. You are prohibited from returning to Wonderful. If we catch you, you will be arrested for trespassing.” – Posted March 26, 2015 from:

VIDEO: Lying Yelp Reviewer Caught by Wonderful Chinese Restaurant – Side Camera  –

Published on Mar 24, 2015 – Yelp Reviewer Dan W from San Bruno, Ca. left a review about a restaurant called Wonderful Chinese in Milbrae, Ca. and the restaurant exposed his lies.

What were the motives of the character Dan W.? It is not known here, but the cause-and-effect is villainous. Just a little comment could have ruined the reputation, brand and image of that restaurant and all the hard work/investment to build it up. On the one hand, Dan W. may simply claim “Freedom of Speech” but on the other hand, there must be some limits to speech. In truth, speech is not free! One cannot run into a crowded theater and erroneously shout “Fire, Fire” without consequences. The resultant stampede is prosecutable in most jurisdictions, as manslaughter or “depraved indifference”.

In addition to the Yelp incident, the American referral site Angie’s List has also “come under fire” for allowing non-credible reviews of businesses and service providers. This case seemed more benign, just a disagreement of levels of quality for a subjective service. Yet still, these incidences must be anticipated.

Based on the foregoing news articles, this issue is a hot topic right now.

The Empire Strikes Back…
Electronic Commerce is now all the rage. Many retail services are marketed, solicited and contracted online, so online reviews (like Yelp and Angie’s List) wield a lot of power; a bad review can truncate growth for a small business. Planners for economic empowerments must therefore consider governance of e-Commerce communications in its oversight. This is the assertion in the book Go Lean…Caribbean, that governance must be in place to ensure integrity of the region’s information super-highway (Page 79), across broadband and wireless deliveries. Too much is at stake. The book posits that some issues are too big for any one Caribbean member-state to manage alone – especially with close proximities where radio spectrum can bleed from one country to another. The book maintains that there are times when there must be a cross-border, multilateral coordination. This Go Lean book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU) to facilitate the growth, promotion and regulatory oversight of this Internet Communications Technology (ICT) industry space in a regional Single Market.

The Asian country of India has provided a good model for communication governance in the era of internet communications.

In September 2013, a petition was made to an Indian Court which claimed, amongst other things, that several public officials were using private email services (like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) for official communication. Legal Counsel for the petitioner had argued that this imperiled national security and violated sections of the country’s Public Records Act, 1993, which mandates that all public records be maintained by the government within Indian territory. The Court found a breach in information security best-practices and ordered remedies accordingly. In response and in pursuit of compliance the government submitted a set of guidelines to the Court to approve for implementation. The guidelines concern many matters of data security; the fairly wide ranging Court Order made foreign sites like Google and Facebook establish grievance officers to report integrity problems within the country.

This Indian model mirrors the proposed Go Lean solution. It demands a lean technocratic efficiency to ensure that there is accountability and transparency in the governance of the Information Technology Arts and Sciences. We need a Grievance Officer for the Caribbean Single Market.

This is among the missions of Go Lean roadmap, to elevate the economic engines and accompanying electronic commerce eco-system of the Caribbean region. The region needs jobs, so we need job creators: small businesses. The CU’s prime directives are identified with the following 3 statements:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improvement of Caribbean governance to support these engines.

The subject of electronic commerce integrity features economic, security and governing concerns. The Go Lean roadmap calls for the deployment of a custom Social Media / Electronic Commerce offering for all Caribbean member-states, branded This Caribbean Cloud initiative is projected in the Go Lean book as a subset of the integrated postal operations, the Caribbean Postal Union. Commerce, whether Main Street or “E-Street”, must be facilitated with technocratic efficiency, accountability and commercial “fair play”. The vision to elevate these aspects of Caribbean society was defined early in the book (Page 12 & 14) in the following pronouncements in the Declaration of Interdependence:

xv. Whereas the business of the Federation and the commercial interest in the region cannot prosper without an efficient facilitation of postal services, the Caribbean Union must allow for the integration of the existing mail operations of the governments of the member-states into a consolidated Caribbean Postal Union, allowing for the adoption of best practices and technical advances to deliver foreign/domestic mail in the region.

xxvii. Whereas the region has endured a spectator status during the Industrial Revolution, we cannot stand on the sidelines of this new economy, the Information Revolution. Rather, the Federation must embrace all the tenets of Internet Communications Technology (ICT) to serve as an equalizing element in competition with the rest of the world. The Federation must bridge the digital divide and promote the community ethos that research/development is valuable and must be promoted and incentivized for adoption.

The Caribbean biggest neighbor, the United States, is also struggling with the dynamics of this electronic commerce industry and the oversight of online reviews.

Some companies there had adopted new policies forbidding negative reviews on online sites. See excerpts of this September 14, 2014 news article here:

Title: Can a company stop you from writing a negative online review? Not if Congress passes this bill
By: Herb Weisbaum, NBC News Contributor

CU Blog - Truth in Commerce - Learning from Yelp - Photo 4You’re entitled to your opinion – just be prepared for possible legal consequences if you share it online.

A growing number of companies now have “non-disparagement clauses” in their contracts or terms of use. They limit a customer’s right to comment on social media sites such as Yelp about the product or service they purchased – even if that comment or review is truthful and accurate.

A non-disparagement clause might look something like this:

  • Any disputes between the parties remain confidential. Customers shall not make or encourage others to make any public statement that is intended to, or reasonably could be foreseen to, embarrass or criticize the company or its employees, without obtaining prior written approval from the company.

“Non-disparagement clauses have the potential to create a profound chilling effect,” said Andy Sellars with the Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic. “Their mere existence may scare consumers from writing a review in the first place.”

The Consumer Review Freedom Act, introduced in Congress last week by two Democratic representatives from California, Rep. Eric Swalwell and Rep. Brad Sherman, would make it illegal for businesses to have non-disparagement clauses in their contacts that prohibit consumers from posting negative online reviews.

Read the full article:

There are so many best practices around the world for the Caribbean region to study for insights and wisdom. The successful application of this roadmap will foster such best practices for the delivery of home-grown electronic commerce and social media in the Caribbean. The wisdom the Go Lean book gleans from this global study is presented as a series of community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies; a detailed sample is listed as follows:

Community Ethos – Deferred Gratification Page 21
Community Ethos – People Choose Page 21
Community Ethos – People Respond to Incentives Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Systems Influence Individual Choices Page 21
Community Ethos – Job Multiplier Page 22
Community Ethos – Privacy versus Public Protection Page 23
Community Ethos – Whistleblower Protection Page 23
Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Help Entrepreneurship Page 28
Community Ethos – Promote Intellectual Property Page 29
Community Ethos – Ways to Bridge the Digital Divide Page 31
Community Ethos – Ways to Improve Sharing Page 35
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Vision – Integrate a Single Market of entire region Page 45
Tactical – Fostering a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Postal Services Page 78
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Interstate Commerce Administration Page 79
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Communications and Media Authority Page 79
Implementation – Year 1 / Assemble Phase – Establish CPU Page 96
Anecdote – Implementation Plan – Mail Services – US Dilemma Page 99
Implementation – Improve Mail Services – Electronic Supplements Page 108
Implementation – Ways to Deliver Page 109
Planning – 10 Big Ideas for the Caribbean Region – Cyber Caribbean Page 127
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Interstate Commerce Page 129
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy –Ways to Improve Governance Page 168
Advocacy – Ways to Foster Technology Page 197
Advocacy – Ways to Foster e-Commerce Page 198
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Main Street – Wifi & Mobile Apps Page 201
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Monopolies – Utilities to Oversee ICT Page 202
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Urban Living Page 234

This commentary therefore features the subjects of commerce, electronic commerce and entrepreneurship. The Caribbean can learn from the Americans and emulate the Indian model.

The biggest consideration should be “technocracy”, the ability to assess market conditions and structure viable solutions; driven by the community ethos of the Greater Good. The book defines that the term technocracy was originally used to designate the application of the scientific method to solving social & economic problems, in counter distinction to the traditional political or philosophic approaches. The CU will start as a technocratic confederation – a Trade Federation – rather than evolving to this eventuality. So technology governance and postal consolidations are planned for Day One of the CU roadmap.

Now is the time for all of the Caribbean, the people, businesses and governing institutions, to lean-in for the empowerments in the book Go Lean … Caribbean. This Big Idea for the region, Cyber Caribbean, can truly impact the region. It can make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play.  🙂


AppendixSource Reference:
* Yelp, and the Yelp mobile app, publishes crowd-sourced reviews about local businesses.


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