Yelp adds feature that lets customers report businesses for not following COVID safety measurements

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Yelp is giving customers the power to report whether or not a business is following coronavirus precautions.

Companies observed following guidelines on masks and social distancing will receive a green check, while those not following protocol will get an orange question mark.

Ratings will only be assigned to businesses when a consensus is reached from several different responses, to ‘mitigate potential misuse.’

Yelp has also added several new features for restaurants, including ‘heated outdoor seating’ and ‘disposable or contactless menu.’

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If several reviewers indicate masks are being worn and social distancing is observed, the business will get a green check. If the majority of responses are negative or mixed, it will get an orange question mark

If several reviewers indicate masks are being worn and social distancing is observed, the business will get a green check. If the majority of responses are negative or mixed, it will get an orange question mark

‘As consumers look for ways to continue supporting their favorite local businesses, their personal health and safety remains a critical part of the decision making process,’ Akhil Kuduvalli, Yelp’s director of consumer product, wrote in a blog post.

‘And for businesses, we know it’s especially important to efficiently communicate their current service offerings and health and safety practices to customers.’

With the new feature, which launched Tuesday, users can report if they saw staff wearing masks and observing social distancing – or if the do not.

The tool gives prospective customers ‘further confidence to support businesses in their local community,’ Kuduvalli said  

Restaurants can now indicated if they have contact-free menus or heated outdoor dining, and fitness centers can indicate if they offer one-on-one or small-group sessions

Restaurants can now indicated if they have contact-free menus or heated outdoor dining, and fitness centers can indicate if they offer one-on-one or small-group sessions

Feedback is available for restaurants, nightlife, retail, food and beauty businesses, as well as automotive and professional services. 

To make sure the responses are authentic, only Yelp users who are logged in can report and responses must reach a consensus about whether masks and social distancing are being observed.

Each location of a franchise will be judged individually, and only feedback received within the previous 28 days is counted, according to Yelp.

If a business is following protocols, a green checkmark will be displayed with text that indicates, ‘Social distancing enforced according to most users’ or ‘Staff wears masks according to most users.’

If most responses indicate measures are not enforced, or the feedback is mixed, an orange question mark will be displayed with text that reads, ‘Social distancing might not be enforced according to most users’ or, ‘Staff might not wear masks according to most users.’

The 'question mark' has only been displayed on a few hundred businesses, and Yelp says its using advanced technology 'to mitigate potential misuse' of the new feedback feature

The ‘question mark’ has only been displayed on a few hundred businesses, and Yelp says its using advanced technology ‘to mitigate potential misuse’ of the new feedback feature

 The ‘question mark’ icon has only been displayed on a few hundred businesses out of the millions that list on Yelp, and the company says its using advanced technology ‘to mitigate potential misuse.’  

Its already removed more than 4,000 reviews between March and December that violated content guidelines, according to Kuduvalli, thereby preventing unfair harm to businesses. 

Last summer, Yelp started allowing stores to easily update information about current hours, offerings and safety precautions.

Interest in businesses that added COVID-19 updates shot up more than 40 percent, Kuduvalli said.

The review hub is now also allowing restaurants to indicate if they offer disposable or contactless menus, heated and/or covered outdoor seating, or other features.

Fitness businesses can also list if they offer one-on-one or small group sessions our outdoor services. 

Yelp says businesses that have actively updated their pages to indicate their current hours, services and safety precautions have seen a spike of more than 40 percent in page activity

Yelp says businesses that have actively updated their pages to indicate their current hours, services and safety precautions have seen a spike of more than 40 percent in page activity

 All businesses can indicate if staff have been checked for coronavirus symptoms. 

‘As the pandemic continues to change our daily lives, we are relentlessly focused on addressing the needs of both local businesses and consumers by providing helpful and up-to-date information during these uncertain times,’ Kuduvalli said.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on brick-and-mortar businesses, with data released by Yelp in September indicating up to 60 percent of stores that were forced to shut during lockdown will never open again.

The site reports more than 163,000 total U.S. businesses on Yelp had closed since March, with nearly 98,000 going on to shutter permanently.

Even as the harshest lockdowns were lifted, limited capacity and decreased demand drove many small shops permanently out of business, the report indicated.

Restaurants have been among the hardest hit, with almost 20,000 closing permanently between March and September alone.

Large and densely populated cities have seen higher rates of permanent closures, likely due to higher rents and more stringent pandemic regulations .

Los Angeles and New York City had the most, with more than 7,000 each in the seven month period.

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