Over at Wired there is an interesting article about a forty-year-old restaurant suing Google for ruining its business. As it appears, for Google this is just another case that will end up on a pile of other similar cases (unfortunately for the business owner), however, this specific case opens a question on how much businesses rely on Google and the Internet when promoting their service or product?
According to Rene Bertagna, the owner, the Serbian Crown restaurant was successfully operating for 40 years serving a variety of French and Russian dishes (including lion meat, wild boar, and emu).
Now, the restaurant has been forced to close (in April 2013), after a huge decline in business and the owner is blaming Google.
It all started in 2012 when the owner noticed a huge drop off in customers on the weekends, and as it continued for months, he was forced to lay off the staff while his weekend customers practically vanished. It appears that Google’s business directory service, Google Places, listed the restaurant as “closed” over the weekends and Monday, the restaurant’s busiest days, previously.
The owner was alerted by a customer, and hired an internet consultant who fixed the issue; however, the damage was already done. Bertagna believes that someone hacked his restaurant’s Google listing and changed the information on working hours, however, by the time he realized the change, a 75 percent drop in customers was seen over the weekend (even with the correct information).
Bertagna is suing Google in Virginia federal court due to the belief that Google should have done more to intervene (he tried contacting Google to change the listing) allowing the Google Places listing for the Serbian Crown to be sabotaged.
According to his lawyer, another restaurant sabotaged the listing to drive away customers, Google, however, commented with one simple statement: “the Serbian Crown should not be permitted to vex Google or this court with such meritless claims”.
This restaurant was apparently successful using other marketing techniques (word of mouth, newspapers, radio and more), given that the owner didn’t even know that the restaurant was on Google Maps, and hadn’t ever used a computer, not to mention the Internet. This is not the first time Google Maps listing was sabotaged.
In January, thousands of hotel listings on Google Maps and Google + were hijacked, changing the website URLs to a commercial third-party site. Wired reports on a case of a jewellery store in 2010 when Google Maps listing was changed to “permanently closed”. It appeared another jeweller changed the information, but the business continued successfully because, as opposed to the Serbian Crown, this jewellery shop had a web consultant and an online presence and marketing.
The problem is that Google Maps data rely on crowd-sourcing information and skilled people can change and reshape that information easily. Once a business claims a listing through Google it can begin editing information, however, once you build a relationship with Google, the company will force you to buy more products and upgrades to make more profit. If a business ignores the listing, anyone can submit edits to the listing and change information. According to Mike Blumenthal, these attacks are rare now because Google put some effort into stopping those edits and hijackers.
Given reviews on various sites, it appears that problem with Google listing wasn’t the only thing that put The Serbian Crown out of the business, and winning in court is highly unlikely for the restaurant. Various businesses have had information changed by competitors who wanted to ruin the competition, and here is the lesson to be learned for many businesses, especially small ones.
How much do businesses rely on Internet and Google in particular when promoting their service? How much are business relying on social media? And how much on traditional advertising? Putting the future of business on Google and building the business relying on Google is downright foolish in many ways.
Google is a giant company with very clear self-interest, although it may act as a public service. Having only one marketing channel or communication is a problem within a marketing strategy.
This isn’t to say that there is predominance of online advertising techniques and marketing channels (although in the world we live in online marketing is dominant in many ways). The owner of the Serbian Crown didn’t even know he was listed on Google Maps, for instance, and surely he promoted his business using different marketing channels successfully for many years.
Businesses need not to choose between the online and offline world, however, they need to minimize the risks, especially when relying on internet and Google results. Moreover, business needs to know their customers, consumers, users.
On the other hand, it is obvious that small business can go out of business when not keeping it up with new technologies, new business models, new market conditions, and new marketing channels.
The story of the Serbian Crown is beyond “battle” with Google who is crushing down a small business; it is a reminder on how important it is to keep tracks of the changes Google makes (we have seen what happens every time Google roll out an update).
The story of the Serbian Crown should be a good example for small business who rely on Google or social media entirely.