There’s a classic mantra in business that says, “The customer is always right.” Apparently, someone forgot to tell that to Vitaly Borker. Borker owns a website that sells eyeglasses and contact lenses, and when his customers want to, say, return an item, he let’s them have it in no uncertain terms. It’s all in the name of drumming up more business.
Borker’s site, DecorMyEyes, has racked up hundreds of complaints on consumer websites like GetSatistfaction.com and ResellerRatings. Reviews on these reputable sites often include links to Borker’s site, which boosts its ranking in Google’s search results—no matter the content of the review. Borker may lose a few customers on account of the bad reviews, but he told David Segal at the New York Times that the increased visibility has given him many times more customers.
“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?” Borker told the New York Times.
“Such a business model may work” but only in limited circumstances, said Mehmet Ekmekci, a professor of managerial economics and decision science and an expert on rating systems. Some professors, he said, work on building intimidating reputations while a few politicians seem to benefit from attention, both good and bad (e.g. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). “On the other side I would hardly imagine a patient visiting a doctor famous for mistreatments, so it may depend on the business,” he added.
Borker’s antics know few bounds. The Times article details some of the more printable conversations Borker has had with unhappy customers, but the comments left on business review sites are far more graphic. What’s more, Borker’s thinly veiled threats have landed him on the wrong side of the law—he has been arrested at least once for the way he dealt with a customer.
While negative reviews have catapulted DecorMyEyes up Google’s rankings, it’s uncertain how long he will be able to exploit the loophole. There is a good chance Google will develop a way to alert users of low-ranked businesses or even a way for users to sort general search results that include businesses based on customer satisfaction, Ekmekci postulated.
In the mean time, Borker will go about his business. “I don’t know how DecorMyEyes may fail or succeed with such a business plan,” Ekmekci said. “I guess we’ll watch and learn.”
Update: Google has responded to the New York Times article with a modifiction of their algorithm. “In the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result,” wrote Amit Singhal on Google’s official blog. Chalk one up for good old fashioned reporting.
Photo by EdCG.