Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2011

Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com

by Michael Luca

Abstract

Do online consumer reviews affect restaurant demand? I investigate this question using a novel dataset combining reviews from the website Yelp.com and restaurant data from the Washington State Department of Revenue. Because Yelp prominently displays a restaurant's rounded average rating, I can identify the causal impact of Yelp ratings on demand with a regression discontinuity framework that exploits Yelp's rounding thresholds. I present three findings about the impact of consumer reviews on the restaurant industry: (1) a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue, (2) this effect is driven by independent restaurants; ratings do not affect restaurants with chain affiliation, and (3) chain restaurants have declined in market share as Yelp penetration has increased. This suggests that online consumer reviews substitute for more traditional forms of reputation. I then test whether consumers use these reviews in a way that is consistent with standard learning models. I present two additional findings: (4) consumers do not use all available information and are more responsive to quality changes that are more visible and (5) consumers respond more strongly when a rating contains more information. Consumer response to a restaurant's average rating is affected by the number of reviews and whether the reviewers are certified as "elite" by Yelp, but is unaffected by the size of the reviewer's Yelp friends network.

Keywords: Revenue; Network Effects; Reputation; Social and Collaborative Networks; Food and Beverage Industry; Service Industry; Washington (state, US);

Citation:

Luca, Michael. "Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-016, September 2011. (Revise and resubmit at the American Economic Journal - Applied Economics.)