What’s Up with Merchant Circle?

The image “http://gesterling.files.wordpress.com/2007/01/merchantc.jpg?w=450” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.This older post, “Merchant Circle: Zero Customer Acquisition Cost,” has been commented on many times. I received another comment this evening (below), which was critical of the company for allegedly misleading marketing and customer acquisition practices. In fairness there are also positive comments.

I think the company’s plan to become an online reputation management service is a good idea. But I’m struck by the persistence of these critical complaints.

Here’s an excerpt from the comment I received tonight verbatim:

Merchantcircle.com uses deceptive advertising and unethical marketing practices. Below is an excerpt from the letter I just sent to the Silicon Valley BBB:

“My business was just phone-spammed today by a company representing merchantcircle.com — the prerecorded voice message said “a customer has left negative feedback about your business” and to “visit merchantcircle.com to view this feedback.” There is no feedback on my business; it’s a bait-and-switch scam, baiting business owners with non-existent negative feedback and switching to a sales pitch for their services.”

I have no direct experience of these alleged facts nor have I sought to follow up and investigate them. But I’m just surprised that almost every time I post about MerchantCircle there’s some sort of negative response from someone.

I’m sure the Merchant Circle folks will respond — and I invite them to.

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21 Responses to “What’s Up with Merchant Circle?”

  1. Colin Pape Says:

    Am I the only one who sees an opportunity in the chaos for MerchantCircle?

    Reading the recent Business Week piece on MerchantCircle, which was quite positive, I was struck by how the negative comments from those they voice-spammed totally killed their credibility and overpowered any goodwill that the article generated (at least online)…

    I immediately thought about how MC’s new reputation management spin (reptimization as I like to call it) could benefit from the bad PR their voice-spam campaign generated…

    They could adopt the slogan ‘Trust us, we know how a bad reputation can affect business’… Or, they could pretend the entire thing was the ultimate case study and that it was done to validate their business model…

    Either way, a new name is probably in order… The damage has been done on such a large scale that they will never overcome the ill will they have generated…

  2. ron Says:

    i was browsing through Merchantcircle and clicked in the Phila area on a number of businesses. one was featured and had coupons. when i clicked on the site i saw the blog was just gibberish. i then called the business’s phone number and it was a non-working number. another featured business (mick’s gym) was also bogus. this lead me to question if they in fact have 100,000 busineses signed up or that’s just hype and there are fakes on there to have you believe a lot of people have signed up.

  3. Rae Says:

    Greg – bottom line is, to me as a consumer, what they’re doing is shady. They offer no added value and as I ranted about in a blog post today, they remind me of a bad scene in a mafia movie. Reputation management is a viable and actionable service. But what they’re doing is simply slimy. Additionally, as another blogger mentioned after seeing my post, if you’re going to dep reputation management, you may want to start with your own site. As an SEO, I’m able to see more vividly what is occuring with their business model and as a consumer, it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

  4. AhmedF Says:

    Rae – I don’t disagree with you (I’ve ranted about them many times on my blog), but when you suggest that they start their own site, you are losing a lot of small businesses. A LOT. They have to be *literally* hand-held to get anything done.

  5. More Trouble for Merchant Circle » Small Business SEM Says:

    [...] did they start it up again? Two weeks ago, Greg Sterling shared a comment posted on his blog in which the business owner claims to have just received another such phone [...]

  6. Rae Says:

    Agreed Ahmed… what really would be the best result would be companies like MC actually being reputable or online marketing firms catering to local businesses… aside from locallaunch.com, I haven’t seen many in my own personal travels doing so. It’s a rock and a hard place… do we tell them to do what may be done “ignorantly” themselves or to allow themselves to get into business with someone shady?

    If someone could take the MC model, but provide value and instead of strongarming businesses into becoming advertisers, earn their business and teach them how to manage online complaints instead of simply erasing them. Or at the very least, being clear with consumers that the business owners control the pages and that all information that appears is at the sole discretion of the online business owner they are viewing.

    tough spot no matter what…

  7. Andrew Says:

    hello,
    I feel as though there is allot of value to a website such as MC. i has signed up for MC about 2 months ago and have not had one phone call. I enjoy the fact that they track your information on multiple business directories and allow you to see whether your information is right or not. I have actually been looking to establish a circle inside MC for a chamber committee that I have started. i feel as though, if I started my own networking site, i will loss out on the other companies that will not be part of my small network group. if anyone has any thoughts on this I would love to hear them. you can e-mail me at urbanandrew@gmail.com

  8. Emil Says:

    If anyone is interested http://www.urbanmelt.com will be available soon, hopefully by the end of July 2007. Totally free for local independent businesses and consumers. No gimmicks, no garbage.

  9. UrbanMelt.com Says:

    Hi Friends,

    Just wanted to let you know that the wait is over. UrbanMelt.com has launched. It’s totally FREE to join and browse. If you are a business owner, you can create a FREE listing. If you are a customer, you can create a FREE consumer profile. Keep a watchful eye, because we will continue to add FREE features and services. And, don’t forget…Shop Local Business.

    Love,

    UrbanMelt.com

  10. Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search » MerchantCircle:FUD marketing (and these guys get $10 mil?) Says:

    [...] marketing to get small businesses to sign up to its services (see John Batelle, Matt McGee & Greg Sterling). They claim that 250,000 small businesses signed up for their service. According to Peter [...]

  11. Bayside Counseling Assoc. Says:

    Today I received a spam voicemail come-on from merchantcircle stating someone had left a comment regarding our business. As others have found, it was a bait and switch and hurt their credibility with me as well.

  12. Scott Says:

    These phishing scumbags, MerchantCircle are at it again. Just got a call saying they need my verification because someone saw my website and contacted them to see if I’m a legitimate business. This is an outright lie – I’m a professional photographer with a portfolio of over 500 photos online. No one is going to look at that and question whether I’m a real business.

    Bottom line, this company’s tactics for phishing is based on a big lie, they lie in every one of their intrusive phone calls, and they’ve been doing it for over 3 years.

    Why do some here still think that they may be a good company????

    They still have no way to contact them via their website. What more do you need to see that these guys are 100% crooks?

  13. Nicky Philip Says:

    I have added my business twice, by accident. I want to combine them so that my network is all the same and then I can update my services that I want to use. Can you please help with this?
    _____________________
    Nicky Philip

    Wide Circles

  14. Greg Sterling Says:

    Not sure what you’re asking. I would go directly to the MC people with your request.

  15. Sage Says:

    Merchant Circle has listed my graphic design company without my request or permission in categories of Computer Graphics (not incorrect) and Electronics which is NOT correct. Worst of all, it has a box titled RECOMMENDED with a list of ELECTRICIANS which looks like we are recommending these companies that we’ve never heard of. There appears to be no way to get removed from their web site unless someone has a suggestion.

  16. gostrath Says:

    Merchant Circle is running a telephone marketing campaign, yet again. They started with spam and have moved to deceptive telephone calls that lie and try to scare prospective customers into signing up for services. These calls are often made in violation of the national do not call list and contain many messages including: “you have received a bad review”, “You have received a review” and their newest addition, “there is a video about your company on merchantcircle.com”. The truth is, these are all lies.

    If you get one of these calls and check on the website, you will find out that there are no reviews for your business and that your business listing is often filled with incorrect information collected from across the net. Despite trying to contact them about the trouble, you will find that you can’t get the issue fixed or the listing removed without joining the site and paying a fee. Even if you do join, the posts in their forums clearly indicate that they will not help with troubles.

    Trying to contact them is an effort in futility. They have hidden all contact information and all phone numbers lead to a fax or voicemail which is never answered. I have done some research and found out who actually hosts their site. I contacted them and they seemed genuinely surprised to hear their was an issue. This is not surprising considering the trouble I had to go through to find out the information. I related what was going on and they seemed genuinely concerned. They asked that I send a complaint to them via email and include some of what I found. I did include slanderous reviews on the site, incorrect information links to revealing photos and much more. I also informed them that I was going to place this information on the net for others to use. They said that would be fine.

    So, without further ado, here it is. The contact information for merchantcircle.com’s hosting provider:

    Silicon Valley Colocation, Inc.
    PO Box 390804
    Mountain View, CA 94039
    Phone: (408) 747-0724
    Phone: (408) 400-0550
    abuseteam@svcolo.com
    info@svcolo.com
    support@svcolo.com

    Once again, the people at Silicon Valley Colocation, Inc. have asked that complaints be filed with them so that they can take action. Please call or drop them a line. Only though action can we stop abusive practices.

  17. Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search » Classmates.com User Sues - Should Merchant Circle worry? | Developing Knowledge about Local Search Says:

    [...] used by Merchant Circle. There have been a number of writers (John Batelle, Matt McGee,  Greg Sterling & myself) and readers critical of Merchant Circle’s tactics. Matt’s post from [...]

  18. SalMac Says:

    It was just brought to my attention that my business was advertised on Merchant Circle without me knowing and had a negative and false review of my business contained in the review section. I am not even located at that address and have never submitted a picture of that location. There is no way to contact MC the numbers are disconnected or it’s a fax number. You cannot talk live to them as they say they are always offline. I e-mailed my listing to be removed and it has not happened yet. This is a horrible company.

  19. adware virus Says:

    WOW. It’s a real shame more people haven’t heard about this place, it covered exactly what I needed!!!

  20. peter scully Says:

    peter scully…

    [...]What’s Up with Merchant Circle? « Screenwerk[...]…

  21. Cosmosurf.net, the ultimate entertainment social network Says:

    Cosmosurf.net, the ultimate entertainment social network…

    [...]What’s Up with Merchant Circle? « Screenwerk[...]…

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