Zomato has quashed claims of a former Zomato user Prateek Dham, who took to venting his ire in a Facebook post after Zomato deleted his account after he was found to be offering positive reviews as a service to restaurants. The post has been removed as of nowThe post’s privacy setting has been changed from public to private.

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In a scathing Facebook post, Prateek claimed that his Zomato account was deleted without intimation on account of him being an independent reviewer. He stated that “Since my reviewing doesn’t reap any monetary benefits for Zomato, it decides to delete my account instantly without ever once notifying me.”

The following were the arguments made by him in the post-

“1. A new restaurant (is about to open up or) opens up in a locality. Either it approaches Zomato, or Zomato approaches it for enlisting on the portal.

2. Zomato’s Area Sales/Marketing Manager pays the restaurant a visit. Asks the owner/manager if they’d want a good rating & reviews for the restaurant since it drives business in return. Most of us do refer to Zomato to look for the ‘best restaurants’ in a particular area, so it makes sense for a restaurant to be there.

3. If the restaurant owner is financially well-off, he gives in to Zomato’s monopoly and pays up to get “good ratings.”

4. Now, Zomato’s “verified reviewers” (you know the ones with blue & white stars on their DPs) come into picture here. Zomato invites these guys to do review under the pretext of “Zomato Meetups” or whatever godforsaken name. These guys eat to their heart’s content for free, and subsequently reward the restaurant with high ratings and positive reviews.

5. Also, by the way, Zomato’s uses its own (corrupt) “algorithm” to rate restaurants. The ratings are not simply calculated as “No. of Ratings divided by No. of Users,” Zomato provides its own ratings to most restaurants (based on the deal it strikes with them.)

6. Now, thanks to Zomato’s “rating” and credibility thanks to the reviews by Zomato Verified Reviewers, the restaurant starts attracting customers and business becomes good. Until, after a while, Zomato pays them a visit again.”

Through his post, he implied that Zomato was passing off paid reviews as those generated by its users in order to generate revenues. Zomato shot down all his claims in a blogpost by co-founder Pankaj Chaddah, which revealed that Prateek had been asking restaurants to invite him for a free meal for rendering a positive review.

In the post, Zomato shared emails from a restaurant owner as well as screenshots of his exchanges with Prateek, which showed that he was offering positive reviews as a service, interestingly leveraging his Zomato fan following of 5,000 followers on Zomato.

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Zomato also shared the email from the restaurant owner which stated that they were contesting the review given the fact that two of the three items reviewed were not in the menu itself, and hence the review was forged.

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Pankaj stated, “In his post, the user is clearly telling the restaurant that he will write a positive review for the place. This means the review was going to be biased. As a result, we cannot trust any of this user’s reviews, and cannot let our vast community of users read or trust any of his reviews either. With that in mind, we decided to delete Prateek’s profile.”

The blog also carried the snapshot of the email which was sent out to Prateek, detailing the reason for deleting his Zomato account. Interestingly, Prateek has claimed in the Facebook post that he wasn’t intimated.

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Zomato also shot down all his accusations about paid reviews point by point. Salient points made by it about the reviewing process were-

  • The code of ethics for our sales team does not let them talk about reviews to a potential advertiser, and we maniacally enforce this policy. Even a benefit of doubt here is always given to the organisation, and not to the sales person
  • Restaurants cannot pay for a rating under any circumstances (unless, of course, they’re paying users who are resorting to unfair practices)
  • Meetups are our community engagement activities where we invite Zomato reviewers – having a Verified profile is not a prerequisite for this – for a meal at a restaurant. Yes, the restaurant hosts these meetups, and users do not pay for their meals. However, whether or not these users write reviews (let alone positive ones) is entirely up to the users themselves. It is made very clear to restaurants that this is an exposure opportunity for them among regular users, and that they are not allowed to ask for reviews
  • A restaurant’s rating is based on the ratings it gets from users. Zomato does not provide its own ratings to restaurants, because that would inherently violate the neutrality of Zomato as a platform – more on this soon. Ratings on Zomato factor in the credibility and trust a user has built with us over time, and are then spread on a normalised distribution curve

Pankaj made it clear in the post that anyone is welcome to review restaurants independently, whether one is a verified reviewer or not. However, the startup had problem with users who were offering positive reviews on Zomato as a service-which was the case with Prateek. He added that if one approaches restaurants offering positive reviews in exchange for free meals, it is in direct violation of Zomato’s review guidelines and policies. He justified Zomato’s stance by saying,

“This has got nothing to do with monetary benefits. It has got everything to do with honesty and trust.”

The standoff between Zomato and Prateek highlights the growing menace of reviews by solicitation. As the tribe of social influencers grows, it becomes difficult to draw a line between fair and unfair practices when it comes to reviewing businesses. A lot of businesses are now dependent on good ratings and reviews as genuine organic reviews lead to higher chances of conversions. This has also resulted in businesses soliciting reviews from influencers, which ultimately only raises a question mark over the genuineness and credibility of the review system.

To be noted is that Zomato has made these things clear in its Foodie Code Of Conduct where it states-

“Accepting or soliciting a kickback – monetary or otherwise – in exchange for reviews or photographs is also not acceptable, and could result in removal of your profile.”

“Identifying or promoting yourself as an official Zomato blogger, or using your status to solicit benefits in exchange for promotion or at the threat of negative reviews on Zomato will not be tolerated. If reports or evidence of such instances are brought to our attention, we reserve the right to delete your Zomato profile, no questions asked.”

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Similarly, restaurants are advised not to solicit reviews.

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Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.