Online business review community Yelp has arrived on New Zealand shores, making it the 21st country on the San Francisco-based company's list for world domination.
For now the service is limited to Auckland. A quick look through yelp.co.nz shows over 1,000 reviews for restaurants in the city, although many of the reviewers appear to be from overseas. Yelp has a team of reviewers who scour cities pre-launch to make sure there's content loaded ahead of going public in a city.
When Yelp launched in Australia in 2011 the company hired local community managers who evangelised the platform and liaised with local businesses to put listings on the platform. Vice president of new markets Miriam Warren says the company will do the same in Auckland.
"We're looking for a Kiwi in Auckland to go out there and talk with the business community," she says.
Online local reviews communities aren't new in Auckland, there have been various efforts to get similar social networks into the mainstream such as Localist and Yellow Local. Search giant Google already has vast amounts of business location information and has a review system also. Warren says Yelp has the advantage of international scale against local competitors, and (with the hiring of an Auckland-based community manager) a local advantage against Google.
"Worldwide we've had 36 million reviews [Yelp says it has 100 million monthly unique visitors in January] ... This community sets us apart and doesn't only exist online, but offline too with meetups and activities", says Warren.
"And who better than a local to show Aucklanders where all the best spots are?"
Yelp's revenue model is ad-based, however, Warren says the company is only selling ads in six of the countries it operates in and doesn't expect to kick that off in New Zealand for another year or two.
Although Yelp is happy selling ads, Warren says it has no plans to run ad campaigns or paid for promotions of its own in New Zealand – instead relying mostly on word of mouth and press.
Asked if Yelp will eventually expand beyond the Auckland region, Warren says it will take a city-by-city approach dependent on how successful the Auckland chapter is.
UPDATE: Localist doesn't seem fussed about the entry of this new international player (although that could all be a veneer), the state-owned listings company says it's welcoming Yelp with open arms.
"What this shows is a validation for this market and what we're doing," says senior product portfolio manager Daniel Evans.
Evans says the company is taking Yelp's entry seriously, but Localist is in a position to compete. In particular he says Localist's new e-commerce platform which sells local businesses' merchandise in a revenue sharing model is one of the company's competitive edges.
Localist has been in the red since its launch, Evans says this year the company is forecasting breaking even.