Merchant Circle: 90,000 Businesses Registered

MerchantCircle may be best known as the bad boy of telemarketing for a negative marketing scheme that went awry last fall. But the eight person Rustic Canyon startup promises it has mended its ways, and points to a growing base of registered members (90,000) and a host of helpful member services. This week, it even got a nice writeup in BusinessWeek.

Director of Marketing Walt Duflock, a former eBayite, says that roughly 50 percent of the company’s registered members rely on the site as their sole Web presence. Some members come in via word of mouth, some through the telemarketing efforts, and some from the virtuous circle affiliate effort from Commission Junction, where affiliates get $2.50 for recommending free members, $25 for basic members, and $75 for premium members.

In addition to providing a Web site, MerchantCircle is providing members with coupons, blogs, links to relevant Topix news clips, integrated Google maps, and a reputation management program that allows businesses to check out everything that has been written about them across the Web. It also provides SEO and, for premium tier members, SEM.

The site does even more. It has a cooperative relationship with classifieds site Edgeio, where relevant ads are inserted on the Edgeio site, and vice versa. “(MerchantCircle) is a great way to get the word out,” says Duflock.

At this point, almost all of the company’s registered base are coming in on the free tier. While the company still has a business plan in place where “x” percent would hopefully migrate to the $30 or $100 monthly tiers that provides paid advertising on search engines, newspaper sites and Jingle Nets’ 1 (800)Free-411, the company may learn to live with free as its predominant model. It can still make money off of Google AdSense and partner services, Duflock notes. Businesses that are mostly likely to want a Google program are probably signing up on their own.

22 thoughts on “Merchant Circle: 90,000 Businesses Registered

  1. Can I say humbug? The company leaves inflammatory reviews (eg: This guy is from Al-Qaeda) to get companies to ‘register’ on their website.

    Ugh …

  2. Well, I just got one of these calls, and there’s NO review under the phone number. I would consider their ways not mended. My advice: ignore them.

  3. I just got a call saying I had a negative rating. Not a good way to start the morning. Every customer that walks in my door receives top-notch service and I carry excellent merchandise. I have never had one complaint, only praise. It’s unethical for them to place calls like this.

  4. I, too, received a call this morning telling me that my business had a negative rating with my customers. After checking it out, I found that no one had rated my business. How is that negative? The only negative thing I can see from this is that no one knows anything about merchantcircle. I hereby rate these jackals VERY NEGATIVE!!!! Anyone who would do business with these people doesn’t care Who they are associated with. BUYER BEWARE!!!!

  5. Along with each of the business people listed here, I do agree that these schamers are out to force businesses into registering to see their negative comments, which I can say for our business, is highly unfounded. We have always strived to give the customer our utmost attention and 99% leave extremely satisfied and with high recommendations. We monitor our own ratings through mailings done every three months and have always had good results. I wouldn’t believe anything you read on their website. I do not appreciate the negative phone call and it upsets me that even one of my employees should here that on our answer machine!

  6. Thanks, Judi, Diane & Mike! I know now that they’re back in their ill conceived business. March 13, 2007 seems to be a common thread here. Fake complaints referred to in an answering maching message (some of you might have gotten email notifications instead), nothing to be found at the website. These skunks want MY business? I think NOT!
    Thanks for the heads up.
    Rich

  7. 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.”

    Other hallmarks of a shady company such as no phone number posted and having to hunt for an email address (questions@merchantcircle.com) would indicate to me that this is a company to avoid ANY dealings with.

  8. After receiving several emails and comments that Merchant Circle was at it again with the phony “you show negative” whatever, I looked into the situation. A Merchant Circle spokesperson confirmed that the company has a new ratings system (like Judy’s Book former system). Companies start out with a negative rating. The clever people at Merchant Circle apparently used this as the basis for a new telemarketing campaign, scaring people to go to their site to investigate. Merchant Circle would not provide me with a transcript of the actual message. My speculation is that Merchant Circle got its best results from the scummy negative review telemarketing campaign, and decided to rev up a similar effort when it fell short of its goals (but I do not know this). You know — they make one bad decision after another over there. If more local companies were like this, I would quit the industry.

  9. Same deal here…Received an automated phone call this morning telling me my business got a negative review. It was obviously a scam to get me onto their site and register my business so that I could “manage” (delete) my reviews!
    Mended their ways? More like changed their deceptive marketing practices!
    Beware!

  10. Well…glad I found this site. I too received an automated phone call saying I had a negative review…and to go to their web site.

    I wonder how many good business panic when they get this message and go the their site to fix the review…

  11. Found this address on their site…

    MerchantCircle
    201 Main Street
    Suite 100
    Los Altos, CA 94022

  12. From what I just saw today, they haven’t cleaned up much. I just got done ranting about them on my blog – sites like theirs give local search/review sites in general a bad name.

  13. I got a phone call today at work. It was a recording that “claimed” I had a review posted by one of my customers about the service at my barber shop. The recording went on to say that all I needed to do was log on to MerchantCircle.com and type in the business phone number. Then I could read this “review”. Well, I typed in the number. Then the site told me that I had to register to read the review. This was free registration, or so it said. I will soon find out. So, I registered. There was no review. I had been tricked. Then I found where to “unsubscribe” and did so immediately. I tried to find a way to contact MerchantCircle.com. I found nothing in the way of a phone number or e-mail address. I found this site.

  14. Same sort of thing happened to me just now, Brian, and we are listed on the Do Not Call Registry as well. Decided to check up on them first and I’m glad I did. If they lie about access to that first review then imagine what else they may lie about. The reason they don’t post better contact info is that they would be beseiged with irate calls or messages most likely! Wouldn’t trust these guys if they were the only reference on the web.

  15. Recorded phone solicitation today (7/27/07) despite our number being on the donotcall list. Made complaint with FTC. Interesting that no phone numbers are listed on their website and their domain registration has been made private. I guess they don’t want to be bombarded with the same crap they are delivering to us.

    I thought we had a name for someone who makes you pay to avoid them doing something that hurts you. Requiring me to respond, research, make complaint, and then fill out their removal form is stealing my valuable time. I guess it’s more than one word: thief, blackmailer, terrorist — you pick. Nice business model, guys. Hey, MerchantCircle — how is your reputation?

  16. I have noticed that Merchant Circle has my husband’s business listed. Neither one of us ask them to post our business online. There was a comment that that indicates anyone who does business with them doesn’t care. I CARE VERY MUCH and we (Husband/Myself) did not ask to put on this website. Just FYI for those people out there who think that all the business owners are in agreement with Merchant Circle. My husband’s business has always been word of mouth and his actions not his advertisements! This is one business owner who does not agree with them!

  17. I saw that a woman responded negatively about Merchantcircle including her husbands business free. That he relies on word of mouth only for his business. She obviously has no clue of marketing a business. If you are short sighted and don’t have a long term goal to grow your business then, she’s right just rely on word of mouth. However there are several factors that will erode her word of mouth customer base as well as prohibit them from reaching people who may never come in contact with someone who has used there service or product. So my conclusion bad business practices and we sometime need to realize that when we open our mouths we allow people to see how uninformed we are.

  18. I too got a call. And they are unreachable via phone. Putting you number into their ‘blue box’ gives them information they can use. I called out State Attoney General’s office and reported them as phishing for business.

  19. They called me today to tell me that someone found me through a positive review on their site and to list with them! Mended their evil ways my aunt tillie – they just changed their tactic from the phone call about a negative review to one about a positive – all lies – my business doesn’t have any reviews on their site!

  20. same procedure happened to me, i got the call , checked their web page i had no reviews, i faxed them a nasty letter called the phone number mentioned above, some has to get to the bottom of this, they are full of (EDIT)if you ask me. to finish it off, they didn’t even have me listed as the correct address now how will a customer know where i’m at if they cant find me? BULL(EDIT)

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