AT on: Stores That Can't Take the Heat

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It's finally happened. After over three years of reviewing stores and soliciting your comments with great happiness all around, we've been hit with a rash of lawsuits from stores that can't deal with being publicly reviewed by us.

Two shops in particular (which I won't bother to publicly pillory, scorn and otherwise humiliate [much as I'd like to], since they'll probably get their lawyers on us again), have tried to get us to delete negative comments, take their listing down and have harassed two readers by discovering and posting their full names and serving another court papers at their home (this reader included their full name in all their comments and was well known to the store). They have cost us (and themselves) money and time in dealing with their immaturity and insecurity over not being able to control everything that is said about them.

They just don't get it...

Our policy is simple. We don't remove store listings (unless out of business), and never remove a reader's comment unless it is clearly spam, nonsense, has nothing to do with the store above it, or is unreasonably vicious and personal. Clearly, a negative review of a shopping experience, even an emotional one, stays up. Any comment that attempts to shed light on a store or a product we deem ultimately helpful. Outside of that, we'll only take your comment down if you ask us to.

We also protect your privacy. While registered users input a username and valid email, we NEVER reveal your email and it is impossible to get it from us. The reason I mention this is because two readers were attacked in the comments by one of these angry stores, who was able to list their full names in an effort to scare them.

How did they do this? We figured it out. If you have a username that you use often it is possible to do repeated google searches and match it with either a full name or an email from someone else's public database. If you always use the same username on the web, I urge you to try googling yourself and see what you find. If you can find your personal information anywhere, consider changing your username or using a email address that doesn't include your full name or work (go gmail!).

What should these stores do?

Most new businesses know that "service" is important and that reviews offer an opportunity for feedback and constructively engaging with their customers, but there are still many "old school" NYC business who would prefer it if their customers bought their stuff and never talked about it unless it was positive. While NYC is built on word of mouth, there are many stores in the home furnishings business that have escaped this feedback cycle for years and manage to thrive while providing poor service.

Let's hope they learn to deal with the web and improve their ways. It's not that hard.

This is what STORES need to know in 2007:

1. Readers know how to take bad reviews in stride and balance them against the positives.

2. Stores are always welcome to invite their customers to comment on their experience.

3. Stores are also welcome to comment and answer any criticism directly to the readers. This is a very successful way to work. One moving company not only apologized to a reader for a bad move, they let everyone know what the reasons for it were and promised that they would be working harder in the future. This turned things right around and - with their comment and hard work - subsequent comments were incredibly positive.

With any disruptive new media, there are going to be unpleasant moments, but BOY could the NYCity furnishing and home serivices businesses use a little shake up in our opinion.

Please keep letting us know what you think of the stores you shop and remember that your comments are safe with us.

Best, Maxwell

NOTE: to the best of our knowledge, stores have NO legal justification for removing negative reviews and would LOSE in court, BUT the process can be expensive and time consuming, and they are gambling that small businesses (like us) will get scared off and compromise.

How do companies like Zagat or YELP! or even Consumerist deal with this? We have no idea and they are very quiet on the matter, but we assume they fight it as best they can.

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.

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