LOS ANGELES – Hollywood transplant Caroline White figured a spa outing would be the perfect way to welcome her visiting mother to Los Angeles.

But to hear White tell it, their afternoon at a spa was anything but relaxing: The facialist was late, the staff was rude and the business refused to offer an immediate refund.

So the aspiring actress did what she always does when a business disappoints: She wrote a scathing review on Yelp, one of the many user-generated-review Web sites.

In the past, the spa’s owners might have ignored White’s online rant or not even seen it. But these days, many owners are acutely concerned about their online reputations and are offering disgruntled customers freebies, do-overs and other incentives to reverse harsh critiques on Web sites such as Yelp and Citysearch, industry observers say.

White felt the effect of that concern firsthand.

“I get a call from my mom saying, ‘You need to take your review down or they’re not giving me my money back,’ ” she recalled.

White’s experience, though extreme, isn’t unique.

“It’s become a higher-stakes game in the last year as sites have become more popular,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst who looks at the effect of digital media on consumer behavior. “Before, someone might have said, ‘I’m never going to go there again,’ but that was word of mouth. It wouldn’t show up anywhere. But now it’s all public.”

“You can no longer, as a business owner, ignore criticism. You have to address it,” said Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence.

No one publishes hard data on how often business owners offer perks to dissatisfied customers. But anecdotal evidence shows the practice is becoming increasingly common.

“This ups the ante for businesses,” Sterling said. “You can’t really hide anymore.”


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