Yelp always excelled at half the retail experience: browsing. For its 117 million monthly users, the online service offers user-generated opinions on local restaurants, doctors, you name it--47 million reviews and counting. But when users wanted to buy something, Yelp was no help. No longer. "We're finding new ways to bridge the online and offline world," says Mike Ghaffary, vice president of business development.
Last July, it launched Yelp Platform. A user can read a review, then order from restaurants in 35 metro areas (so far). Appointment bookings for places such as hair salons, dentists's offices, and yoga studios are coming later this year. That helps Yelp close a loop it had long left open--and not a moment too soon. Now it can encroach on Seamless's and Delivery.com's territories and stay ahead of competitors, from OpenTable to Foursquare, that are increasingly focused on Yelp-like localism.
Yelp platform also offers advertisers--its main source of revenue--measurable transactions. This could boost what has already been a good run for Yelp. Third-quarter revenue jumped nearly 70% compared to a year earlier. And the company is making an aggressive international push with the acquisition of Qype, its main European rival. Yelp's appetite for new markets is anything but sated.