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Michael Luca

Michael Luca

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Published by Luther Lowe
Luca, Michael. "Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-016, September 2011.
Luca, Michael. "Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-016, September 2011.

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Published by: Luther Lowe on Oct 04, 2011
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11/17/2013

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Copyright © 2011 by Michael LucaWorking papers are in draft form. This working paper is distributed for purposes of comment anddiscussion only. It may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Copies of workingpapers are available from the author.
Reviews, Reputation, andRevenue: The Case ofYelp.com
Michael Luca
 Working Paper
12-016September 16, 2011
 
 
 
Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com
Michael Luca
 September 2011
Abstract
Do online consumer reviews affect restaurant demand? I investigate this question using a noveldataset combining reviews from the website Yelp.com and restaurant data from the WashingtonState Department of Revenue. Because Yelp prominently displays a restaurant's roundedaverage rating, I can identify the
causal
impact of Yelp ratings on demand with a regressiondiscontinuity framework that exploits
Yelp‟s
rounding thresholds. I present three findings aboutthe impact of consumer reviews on the restaurant industry: (1) a one-star increase in Yelp ratingleads to a 5-9 percent 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 inmarket share as Yelp penetration has increased. This suggests that online consumer reviewssubstitute for more traditional forms of reputation. I then test whether consumers use thesereviews in a way that is consistent with standard learning models. I present two additionalfindings: (4) consumers do not use all available information and are more responsive to qualitychanges that are more visible and (5) consumers respond more strongly when a rating containsmore information. C
onsumer 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 thesize of t
he reviewers‟ Yelp friends network.
 
Harvard Business School, mluca@hbs.edu
 
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Introduction
Technological advances over the past decade have led to the proliferation of consumerreview websites such as Yelp.com, where consumers can share experiences about productquality. These reviews provide consumers with information about experience goods, which havequality that is observed only after consumption. With the click of a button, one can now acquireinformation from countless other consumers about products ranging from restaurants to moviesto physicians. This paper provides empirical evidence on the impact of consumer reviews in therestaurant industry.It is
a priori
unclear whether consumer reviews will significantly affect markets forexperience goods. On the one hand, existing mechanisms aimed at solving information problemsare imperfect: chain affiliation reduces product differentiation, advertising can be costly, andexpert reviews tend to cover small segments of a market.
1
Consumer reviews may thereforecomplement or substitute for existing information sources. On the other hand, reviews can benoisy and difficult to interpret because they are based on subjective information reflecting theviews of a non-representative sample of consumers. Further, consumers must actively seek outreviews, in contrast to mandatory disclosure and electronic commerce settings.
2
 How do online consumer reviews affect markets for experience goods? Using a novel dataset consisting of reviews from the website Yelp.com and revenue data from the WashingtonState Department of Revenue, I present three key findings: (1) a one-star increase in Yelp ratingleads to a 5-9 percent 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 inrevenue share as Yelp penetration has increased. Consistent with standard learning models,
1
For example, Zagat covers only about 5% of restaurants in Los Angeles, according to Jin and Leslie (2009).
2
For an example of consumer reviews in electronic commerce, see Cabral and Hortacsu (2010). For an example of the impact of mandatory disclosure laws, see Mathios (2000), Jin and Leslie (2003), and Bollinger et al. (2010).

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