Merchant Circle’s Cold-Calling Campaign Continues

Filed in Local Search, Small Biz Marketing by Matt McGee on May 16, 2008 16 Comments

Merchant Circle logoSmall business owners are upset (again) at Merchant Circle over what the business owners are calling “fishy” marketing tactics, “an obvious scam,” and a “sneaky way of doing business.” They’re venting in the comments of a Merchant Circle post I wrote in September, 2006, which described the strange, automated marketing calls Merchant Circle was making.

This blog isn’t the only place small business owners are reporting such marketing calls. An old John Battelle post about Merchant Circle has a running commentary that details the types of calls Merchant Circle makes to small businesses. You can start here to read comments left within the past month.

The Merchant Circle Call

Based on comments from small businesses, it appears Merchant Circle has a couple different types of marketing calls. On John Battelle’s blog, Carla G. reports:

“They said the business I work for had a bad review and to go to a certain site and enter your work phone number to view it. I did that to see what the negative review was and it turns out that they just wanted me to sign up my company on their website…. I tried to pull up this bad review on the web, but there was none.”

That’s the same technique I wrote about back in 2006 — a warning that someone had just left a negative review about your business, and an encouragement to visit to claim your business listing and respond to the negative review. Except there were no negative reviews to be found.

But there are other calls being made, too. Here on this blog, Fran says:

“I received a call this morning from merchant circle and they have the same message but they took out the ‘negative comment’ part and just said that someone has left a review about your company.”

But it’s not just about positive or negative reviews and comments. Readers Tom C., Dino Kokotas, and YZ Consulting all say that Merchant Circle is using Google’s name/clout to get businesses to claim their listing. Here’s how Dino Kokotas described it:

“I also received an automated call stating that someone found our business via a google search and was wondering if we are a valid company.”

And it’s not just phone calls. This past December, Mike Blumenthal reported getting emails from Merchant Circle that said his business had received two ratings … ratings he was unable to find on his business profile.

When asked to comment via e-mail on the recent outbreak of upset comments from small business owners, a Merchant Circle spokesman refused to discuss the company’s marketing tactics, only giving this response: “MerchantCircle is dedicated to helping local merchants get their businesses online. We provide simple, affordable services for local business owners to attract new customers online.” The e-mail then listed several positive testimonials from Merchant Circle customers.

Why? It’s All About the Signups

Merchant Circle has been anxious to tell the world about its growing number of registered businesses. The home page boasts 450,000 such businesses today:

Merchant Circle screenshot

That number is up substantially over recent months:

Perhaps Peter Krasilovsky put it best in November, 2007, when he reported on the new funding and IAC involvement at a time when Merchant Circle claimed 250,000 registered businesses:

“…the claim of 250,000 registered businesses, while impressive, should be sliced and diced for exactly what it is. The vast majority may have been duped into registering by an aggressive telemarketing campaign that strongly implied these businesses had a negative review, so they should go online and check it out. To see their ‘review,’ they first had to register.”

All the way back in October, 2006, when the original dust-up over their marketing tactics hit, Merchant Circle said they were calling off the cold-calling campaign: “In response to merchant emails, the contact campaign in its current form has been ended.”

Based on the latest round of upset small business owners, the contact campaign is alive and not-so-well.

Comments (16)

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  1. Dave says:

    Here is the phone number for Merchant Circle(650) 352-1335 ext. 515

    Give them a call to let them know how you feel about their illegal telemarketing scheme. When you call you will hear a recorded message. Just punch in 515 and you will get a voice mail to leave a message.

    Would love for everyone to call them, just like they call us.

  2. mariah says:

    Date: Sept 19, 2008

    Today I was closing up my small salon I own and the phone rang. I listen to this message stating that they had Video of my business and to go to thier website to watch it. I was kinda weired out so I wanted to check round, thats when I discovered your website. Thanks for the information.

  3. Audra says:

    I received the same email and now I’m trying to cancel my autopayment. Were you able to cancel your membership? If so, how did you go about it?


  4. Kim says:

    I got the google search call asking if I was a valid business also. I just checked it out Had my info listed hit next, Sent me to check out $35.00 I exited out but they better not come after me for money I didn’t get anything. I didn’t want anything but to find out what was going on, glad I found this site. Hopefully not too late.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Tried MerchantCircle again this am. Gone?

  6. DAMIEN says:

    which is best one?

  7. lYNN says:

    I received the recorded message today saying someone found us with a Google search and posted a comment and to go to Merchant Circle’s web site to see the comment. I found this site…thanks for being there. I called the number posted by Dave and gave it a try. The extension has been inactivated so I tried extension 516…it worked. I got a voice mail and left a good message.

    Call (650) 352-1335 ext.516 and leave your own message. It will make you feel better.

  8. Lynn says:

    Merchant Circle has inactivated ext 515. Call (650)352-1335 ext 516 instead.

  9. Michelle says:

    I love merchant circle…..They just want businesses to know that they have a free listing with them. They are the only listing I can find that is truly free. I have gained many clients through them. So I do not agree with any of what you are saying….You don’t get my vote!!!!

  10. Jason says:

    I have a free account with Merchant Circle, which I became aware of due to the fake bad review call. It seems like a beneficial site, but they have my address wrong. When I try to correct it, nothing changes. Very weird. They have no contact # listed, no email listed. Do they even exist?? I have a client who swears by Merchant Circle. Very weird. Thanks for the phone #. Now i can bombard them with calls and emails until i get answers. To be continued….

  11. Jana Cooley says:

    Well- interesting. I have a different dilemna. There is an inappropriate review on this website and I am having a really hard time getting this account closed, despite calling AND emailing MC. A former employee had set this up some time ago and has all the login info. I want this entry completely canceled so I can start fresh. Ideas? No phone calls to us- but no action on deletion of the account either.

  12. Heather Devlin says:

    I was shocked to discover Merchant Circle by accident one day. My business was listed,had a negative comment on it and I had no idea it even existed!
    The complaint was bogus and promoted a competing business in my town. I had no record of that person as a client. No other business in my town even have comments or ratings on them.
    What is this site? Where did it come from? Why can they list businesses without their knowledge or permission?

  13. JBJ says:

    There are 50 directories that use public information about local businesses to create listings, include Google and Yahoo. You can just grab the page and edit it how you want and use if to get more customers.

  14. woody says:

    Yup me too. We became the target of a sick twisted scam artist who is using merchant circle “talk to me” feature to hrass us and poste hateful messages defying the police to do anyyhing about it. In order to control this psge instead of our stalker we are now paying a monthly fee. merchantcircle refuses to respond to our urgent requsts to turn off the “talk to me” feature. Merchantcircle says they do live chat for one hour a day on certain days but They weren’t there when we tried to get them. Where is the responsibility of this Merchantcircle? Don’t they care about their “customers”? We’re more like captives to this Merchantcircle and our sick stalker who keeps posting crap to “talk to me” on our paid merchantcircle listing.

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