- Yelp has introduced Yelp Connect, which enables restaurants the ability to communicate with customers who have shown interest in the business, according to a release emailed to Restaurant Dive. Through Yelp Connect, restaurants can share information such as new menu items, specials or events.
- Yelp users will automatically receive these updates on their app home screen, as well as in a personalized weekly email from restaurants they’ve engaged with on the app.
- Yelp also added Predictive Wait Times for its Waitlist feature, which shows diners a live wait time, and Notify Me, which allows diners to set reminders to join a waitlist.
These new features join a laundry list of updates Yelp has made to its app in the past year in an effort to diversify its portfolio and personalize user experience. Last year, the company added restaurants to Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist, introduced Yelp Waitlist Kiosks and integrated Grubhub's restaurant network onto its platform. In April, the app added a feature that allowed users to rate a restaurant’s eco-friendliness.
And, just last month, Yelp launched a new feature that tailors search results to customers’ lifestyles and preferences, which Chief Product Officer Vivek Patel called the company’s most significant product update in 15 years.
Yelp Connect adds to that personalization element, but seems to benefit its restaurant partners just as much, if not more, than consumers. The feature enables operators to control their messaging and target customers that previously showed interest in their brand through other Yelp features, like Yelp Reservation. It also does so as both a push-and-pull communication, displaying new information to customers who visit the app, and pushing that same news out to customers via a weekly email.
There were no details in the release about whether or not the email was an opt-in feature, which is important. Most consumers want to receive messaging about products and discounts relating to their interests, according to a survey from PwC, but 65% of customers would stop using a brand if it wasn’t transparent about how it was using their data, according to a survey by Acquia.
Yelp’s release did note that this feature offers restaurant operators a strategic approach to target relevant customers, adding that “the current state of social media isn’t designed with business owners in mind.” Indeed, once Facebook changed its algorithm last year to favor personal pages over business pages, organic reach started to have less impact for restaurants using the channel, as less people were seeing their messages. Leveraging Yelp is a way restaurants can control direct-to-consumer messaging without having to navigate that algorithm challenge or spend hefty advertising money.
This launch also shows a necessary evolution for Yelp, which has been around since 2004 but faces intensifying competition from other platforms like Google and Instagram. The company lost its spot atop the reviews throne to Google in 2015, and began pivoting to other features like reservations. Its new features are putting the company front and center through the customer journey, from reservations to wait list views to communication. These initiatives may have primed Yelp as an attractive acquisition target — according to a Wall Street Journal report, Groupon could be looking to buy Yelp to ease shareholder tensions over the daily-deals brand's lackluster finances. A deal could drive synergies of around $200 million, per the report. Neither Groupon nor Yelp commented on the report.
In the meantime, as more restaurants focus on their own websites and apps, and also continue to market through social media, third-party sites and competitive sites like TripAdvisor, restaurants on Yelp will be challenged with avoiding over-communication to a point where their messages get lost.