Consumers' perceptions of vape shops in Southern California: an analysis of online Yelp reviews

Tob Induc Dis. 2014 Nov 28;12(1):22. doi: 10.1186/s12971-014-0022-7. eCollection 2014.


Background: E-cigarettes are sold at many different types of retail establishments. A new type of shop has emerged, the vape shop, which specializes in sales of varied types of e-cigarettes. Vape shops allow users to sample several types. There are no empirical research articles on vape shops. Information is needed on consumers' beliefs and behaviors about these shops, the range of products sold, marketing practices, and variation in shop characteristics by ethnic community and potential counter-marketing messages.

Methods: This study is the first to investigate marketing characteristics of vape shops located in different ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles, by conducting a Yelp electronic search and content analysis of consumer reports on vape shops they have visited. The primary measure was Yelp reviews (N = 103 vape shops in the Los Angeles, California area), which were retrieved and content coded. We compared the attributes of vape shops representing four ethnic communities: African American, Hispanic/Latino, Korean, and White.

Results: Vape shop attributes listed as most important were the selection of flavors or hardware (95%), fair prices (92%), and unique flavors or hardware (89%). Important staff marketing attributes included being friendly (99%), helpful/patient/respectful (97%), and knowledgeable/professional (95%). Over one-half of the shops were rated as clean (52%) and relaxed (61%). Relatively few of the reviews mentioned quitting smoking (32%) or safety of e-cigarettes (15%). The selection of flavors and hardware appeared relatively important in Korean ethnic location vape shops.

Conclusions: Yelp reviews may influence potential consumers. As such, the present study's focus on Yelp reviews addressed at least eight of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products' priorities pertaining to marketing influences on consumer beliefs and behaviors. The findings suggest that there were several vape shop and product attributes that consumers considered important to disseminate to others through postings on Yelp. Lack of health warnings about these products may misrepresent their potential risk. The main influence variables were product variety and price. There was only a little evidence of influence of ethnic neighborhood; for example, regarding importance of flavors and hardware. Shop observational studies are recommended to discern safety factors across different ethnic neighborhoods.

Keywords: Southern California; Tobacco regulatory science; Vaping shops; Yelp.