6 Misconceptions about Negative Reviews

Ecommerce merchants sometimes manage their online reviews out of fear. Doesn’t it make sense to remove wacky, blistering, or biased reviews, for instance, or at least post a rejoinder to them?

Before you decide how to handle negative reviews on your site, consider these six perspectives on commonly held beliefs about how reviews function and influence shoppers.

Misconceptions about Negative Reviews

Negative reviews hurt sales. It’s not always a bad thing when user reviews stop someone from buying a certain product. Perhaps a review alerted shoppers that this sleeping bag, camera, or vitamin supplement would have been wrong for them. In turn, that prevents a costly product return.

It’s not always a bad thing when user reviews stop someone from buying a certain product.

A slew of negative reviews for one product might also alert you that the product description is misleading or incomplete, or that you should stop selling that particular brand. In short, negative feedback can be helpful.

Remember, too, that people filter both positive and negative reviews with their own interests, needs, and values in mind. For instance, a five-star review praising a book as an exceptionally easy read might amount to a red flag to people who prefer reading to challenge them in some way. A two-star review complaining that a pair of shoes ran tight would be a positive signal for someone with narrow feet.

You should publicly reply to every complaint. To the extent that it’s practical, you should post a reply whenever a review states something that objectively isn’t true or describes a slipup that deserves an apology. But replying to each person who was mildly dissatisfied is difficult without coming off as defensive or formulaic. Most of the time, shoppers reading mildly negative reviews can put them into context.

If you do reply, prove the reviewer wrong. I once had a long discussion with someone at HomeAway, a vacation home rental company, about how best to respond to someone who had posted a review describing five things that he hadn’t been happy about in a rental.

“If you reply to a review, the purpose isn’t to make that customer change their mind,” the HomeAway representative told me. “It’s too late for that. And don’t try to make them wrong. Write any reply with future travelers in mind. They want to know that you’re open to feedback and improvements and that you’re pleasant to deal with.”

Censorship is often needed. Certainly you need a policy defining what’s acceptable and what’s not in online product reviews. You may want to outlaw profanity and general defamation. But strongly worded criticism alone should never be a reason to delete someone’s review. Negative reviews do not necessarily convince shoppers not to purchase. A large-scale practice of deleting negative reviews on your site might very well get noticed and written about in someone’s blog, which could damage your company’s credibility.

People who write negative reviews are haters or moochers. Doubtless there are some people whom you never can please, as well as cheapskates or liars running schemes to get money back from merchants. Others have an inflated sense of self-importance. But the vast majority of people who post negative feedback online simply have points they want to let you and other shoppers know about. Regard them as sincere because they are.

Most reviews are fake. Studies by researchers at Harvard Business School, Boston University, and Gartner have determined that around 15 percent of online reviews are fake. Although that’s concerning, it’s a far cry from online reviews generally representing a sham. Given how important reviews are to today’s shoppers, you’re best off making your peace with this trend, encouraging your buyers to post reviews, and making reviews easy to browse.

Marcia Yudkin
Marcia Yudkin
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