Negative Online Reviews Really Positive
By Tom Ryan
Online customer reviews – including negative ones – are proving to be an essential ingredient to any dynamic e-commerce site.
Several recent surveys, according to Adweek, show that consumers overwhelmingly prefer e-commerce sites with customer reviews and ratings. Moreover, customer reviews can build camaraderie and community to a web site, and ultimately enhance customer loyalty.
The surveys come as many brands are joining Amazon.com and review sites such as such as yelp.com, tripadvisor.com and consumersearch.com in offering reviews on their web sites. In May, Toshiba joined Dell and Hewlett Packard in offering online reviews “to enhance the buying experience.” Levi’s will join Fair Indigo and EMS in the apparel space, offering customer reviews by the close of 2007.
But the reason online customers reviews work is the same reason many retailers don’t use them – the requirement for negative reviews.
“If all reviews are good, customers question if the ratings are legitimate,” Bill Bass, CEO of Fair Indigo, told Adweek. “Not only will people ignore the reviews, but it will hurt their trust in the brand. It would be better to have no reviews at all.”
Besides authenticity, negative reviews – as long as they’re not too negative – help customers “pass through purchase paralysis” – or fully work through concerns involved in the purchase decision, according to Sam Decker, vice president of marketing at Bazaarvoice, which sets up online customer reviews. Also, although one- to three-star ratings hurt sales of those products, they often prompt shoppers to buy higher-rated, more expensive merchandise from web sites.
“Consumers are looking for what could be wrong with a product,” Mr. Decker said. “If they can’t find it on your site, they’re going to find it elsewhere.”
Finally, the large majority of reviews tend to be positive, and poor reviews can reveal which products should be weeded from the mix.
But insiders told Adweek the editing or screening of reviews should be kept to a minimum to preserve credibility. EMS only filters obscenities and offensive content. Fair Indigo rejects reviews mentioning rival brands, either negatively or positively. Petco, which has had online reviews since Fall 2005, filters out reviews with the names of rival brands and URLs to other web sites, as well as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, for liability reasons. In all, less than 10 percent of Petco’s reviews are rejected.
The evolution of dealing with customer feedback is expected to be inevitable.
“In two years customer reviews on branded sites will be more common,” said John Lazarchic, Petco’s vice president of e-commerce. “A few years after that if shoppers don’t find reviews on a site, they’ll just go shop somewhere else.”
Discussion Question: Do you think customer reviews will be a requirement for successful retailer/brand web sites? How should retailers/brands handle negative reviews?