Negative Online Reviews Really Positive

Discussion
Jul 06, 2007

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?

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11 Comments on "Negative Online Reviews Really Positive"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

One big reason eBay is the most successful online retailer: its feedback system. There’s no doubt that people love Amazon’s reviews. All the popular shopping and entertainment sites (see http://www.RottenTomatoes.com) have robust user comments, reviews, suggestions, complaints, and compliments. A retail site without honest reviews is like visiting a totalitarian country (or a typical American high school). You feel a lot better when you leave.

Dick Seesel
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

This will be an interesting trend to watch, especially to see how it spreads to shoe and apparel retailers trying to market their own brands online. If their private labels do not have the credibility (fit, workmanship, size after washings, etc.) of the comparable national brands, this could be risky business. It’s a double-edged sword: Too many raves and it looks like the “reviews” are being manipulated.

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 10 months ago
Consumers have a significant appreciation for the reviews because right or wrong, consumers tend to trust other consumers, more than they trust the advertised message. Advice to retailers and product manufacturers: – Don’t fight it. Reviews are a major factor in e-commerce. You will need to deal with it. – Resist the temptation to write a review “from the company” because more times than not it comes across defensive and corporate. – Read the reviews carefully and consider what criticisms are worthy, and take it to heart. Act accordingly. The online review process isn’t scientific but in many ways, you are benefiting from a free focus group. – Don’t act defensively if a review knocks your product. The review might be real, or it might have been submitted by one of your haters or competitors. Let the review process take care of itself. In the end, if your product is attacked unfairly, others will come to your rescue. It happens almost all the time. Let it be: Retailers need to allow the review process to… Read more »
W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

The old saying that if a customer is unhappy, they tell 10 people but maybe only 1 if the service/products are good, applies to reviews as well. Consumers know all good reviews are a put on and disregard them.

The way many retailers get into trouble is by not listening to their customers. Bad reviews are part of listening to customers. Retailers should use bad reviews as opportunities to improve.

There are some negative people that can say nothing nice about anything. These are also the chronic complainers. I would not just let anyone rant on and on. These should be deleted, but a fair and balanced review section can be a plus. What someone is unhappy with may be of little interest to others.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
14 years 10 months ago

Agreed, reviews are a value-add to the consumer. As consumers find reviews more valuable through the experience gained from using them, consumers will be attracted to sites that give them the most beneficial, helpful feedback before purchasing. The e-commerce site should not only welcome feedback but find ways of enhancing it with clear ratings on several specific areas. They should be inviting feedback and rewarding consumers for submitting feedback. The e-commerce sites that use this as a tool to draw consumers in will be the winners! Manufacturers beware and respond!

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
14 years 10 months ago

Having customer reviews or feedback on site is just plain common sense. In some of the focus groups I have held, I found that most online shoppers have done their research before making the purchase and, therefore, if they can’t find reviews of products on the store’s site, they will go elsewhere for information. The biggest concern for online retailers is keeping customers on their site until the purchase is complete. Having reviews and feedback ensures the customer stays within that particular website.

As with any customer service situation, all negative interactions must be addressed! If there are negative reviews, they should be answered and the solution posted right underneath the comment. That will show potential customers that you take customer service seriously and you (the merchant) stands behind what they sell.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Frank is right–companies need to listen to negative comments by customers. If customers are unhappy about something; especially if it appears to be widespread, then you know exactly what needs to be changed about your product to make it more attractive to customers. Research on persuasion indicates that people are more persuaded by by arguments if positive and negative points are presented. Word of mouth has always been an important part of customer decision making. Having customers post reviews is another form of word of mouth marketing. Ignoring what customers have to say about your products or trying to manipulate what customers say would be a dangerous move.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

I’ve begun thinking that retail stores need to find a way solicit feedback about their in-store marketing, environmental ambiance, product and service satisfaction, etc. It is one of the most successful and desired attributes of online retailing, so why not in stores?

Regarding response to negative internet feedback, I think the retailer needs to respond as professionally as possible, speaking candidly and respectfully to those who criticize. It is also a great opportunity to learn; find were there is a misunderstanding of the intent or use of products and services, or gain an greater view of how the site (retailer) is doing a dis-service to the customer. I will admit that feedback is more available from online sources as the internet offer a great deal of anonymity.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 10 months ago

Assuming we are discussing public forum-type customer reviews, no, they are not required for online sales success. Amazon, for instance, could never benefit from comments about the books, CDs, and DVDs that comprise the bulk of their sales. These are entertainment and information media, which are reviewed elsewhere by professionals. However, Amazon is extremely interested in customer reactions to service/shipping/charging, which are almost always negative. Thus, Amazon conducts these customer contacts privately, one-to-one, and definitely benefits from them. But, they are not public reviews.

There are two basic types of reviews possible. No, not negative or positive. Instead, they are either about product benefits/deficiencies or service/shipping/charging. Some internet retailers are responsible for both, but most are responsible only for service/shipping/charging. However, most public customer reviews are about product benefits/deficiencies, so online retailers that are resellers do not need them to be successful.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
14 years 10 months ago
Absolutely keep the negative reviews and the positive. Look for reviews all along the continuum that talk about specific advantages and disadvantages, features and flaws, benefits and bugs. Amazon and the travel sites also ask users how much help they got from a given review–or reviewer. On Amazon, there’s a lot of information about a frequent reviewer users can see before they even start in on the review. Per the discussion of monitoring negative feedback: — One editing concession I could see making in the name of brevity on a site: If a lot of nearly identical reviews come in on one issue. For instance, say 30 people write a review about a defective zipper on a briefcase. Rather than have site visitors scroll or click for three pages about the same stuck zipper, I’d be highly tempted to consolidate the nearly identical reviews into one mega-review with an editor’s note that: — Mentions all 30 reviewers by name and thanks them for the feedback. — Describes how the retailer and manufacturer are solving the… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
14 years 10 months ago

Feedback on eBay is only possible to be posted from a person who is registered with the system and who matches the handle of the actual buyer in a specific auction with a specific seller. It is therefore very valuable and quite useful when taken in concert with all the other feedback left for the same seller or by the same buyer. Other sites may have similar controls or requirements, but in some cases on many other sites the comments (good) are known to be social engineered by the company itself, and (bad) are guessed to be social engineered by competitors or chronic complainers who may not even have purchased the item. Online reviews can have great value and can offer insight to an open minded retailer but unfortunately most consumers these days know reviews must be taken with a very large grain of salt.

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