Yelp & Foursquare: Bolstering the Consumer Decision-Making Process
I am a huge foodie and New York has only worsened my obsession with trying out new restaurants and coffee shops.
I’ve always had a structured routine when it comes to choosing restaurants. I usually scour blogs or magazines or reference back to my long google doc on referrals from friends and family (I told you I was obsessed!) After I pick 2-3 restaurants from the list (with little prior knowledge other than a friend’s name in brackets), I head on over to Yelp.
On Yelp, I’ve trained myself to focus on three main categories: 1) Ratings, 2) Quality of Reviews, and 3) Pictures of the Restaurant. After I make my decision (a time intensive process), I use Opentable to make my reservation. There have only been a number of restaurants that do not offer opentable integration via Yelp, which is a huge detriment to the booking workflow. The integration seems like a no-brainer to me and one that would hugely outweigh the costs of integration.
So that is the process. Pretty simple, right?
There was nothing seriously wrong with my way of deciding where to eat - except, it took a lot of time and wasn’t entirely reliable.
One day, Yelp was taking a long time to upload my search results so I opted for Foursquare. Foursquare was always a “nice to have” app on my iPhone that I used when I needed to pass time. I didn’t get much out of check-ins, other than the occasional special which I rarely redeemed. Facebook gave me the same functionality with more friend/network exposure.
My sentiment changed after discovering Foursquare’s revamped explore functionality and heavy UX/UI focus on user-generated pictures. Foursquare has now become my default discovery engine — the prelude to my scattered referrals and over displacing my time spent on Yelp.
Discovery - We all get suggestions for places to eat and drink. On any given day, we are given at least a dozen names (either through friends, twitter, or traditional marketing.) Given all of our hectic schedules, we process and record only one-third of these suggestions. Foursquare allows you to not only explore restaurants in advance (from other foodies), but also facilitates discovery when it is most needed (before a meeting, after a party, in transit.) Its user-generated pictures are much better quality than Yelp’s and it allows users to store information on to-do lists that will automatically pop up when we check-in to a location. It is in these “mobile periods” of time that we can’t reference our ten dozen post-its or scribbles in the back of our planners that Foursquare fulfills our need.
Quality of Reviews - I’ve always liked an outsider’s perspective but Foursquare’s focus is on friends you “trust”. You also get feeds from people who have been to the same location in the past, but they are better because they can be consumed in bite-sized pieces, instead of long monologues a la Yelp. Don’t get me wrong - there are times I need that long review - but usually, I want to know the best dishes right before the order. Yelp’s reviews are an amalgamation of disgruntled customers on angry tirades or overly enthusiastic tourists who give too much detail. Foursquare is short and timely, offering just the exact amount of information I need. Foursquare also combines reviews from magazines and brands I follow (e.g. NYMag, Gilt Groupe) to become the digital/mobile version of my post-it scribbles. In short, Foursquare understands the modern-day social user better than Yelp does. Today, users are the sum of their information sources and a company that makes it easier to consume those sources will ultimately be the most successful.
Location - Both Yelp and Foursquare offer location-based search, but Foursquare’s explore functionality is more robust. The map sits at the top of the app while Yelp’s is only accessible away from the main page. Foursquare also highlights where your friends have eaten in the recent past (augmenting the information you use to select your own eatery.) For foursquare, location is the focus while for Yelp, it is just supplementary (an obvious observation in the analysis of their design.) Yelp’s mobile app is buggy to say the least and doesn’t incorporate design features that enhance usability.
Design: Look at the difference between the two landing pages below. Foursquare has much better design. You want to spend time on the page and would gladly scroll down to go through your options while in the Yelp app, you want to get out as fast as possible. Yelp’s strong focus on assigning “stars” to a restaurant (reminiscent of old-school NYT reviews) distracts the user from learning more about the restaurant. I wouldn’t spend time on a three-start restaurant on Yelp but on Foursquare, without the focus on the number of stars, I’d spend time getting suggestions on a few good dishes found in the mix.
Competitive Advantage: In terms of bolstering their competitive advantage, Foursquare should factor in reservations into their functionality to counter Yelp. Yelp has introduced check-ins to enter Facebook’s and Foursquare’s territory, as an example. I understand their focus is on location, but the overlap into Yelp’s “pre-destination” market may help to expand their user base. I’d also focus on foursquare’s web functionality (an experience that the team has recently put time into.)
I don’t think one company will win the war, but both companies can do much to improve their feature set in order to become placeholders in the consumer decision-making process.