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Positives About Negative Product Reviews

Positives About Negative Product Reviews Sam Decker

When retailers and marketers talk about social media, one question comes up a lot: what about negative reviews?
According to Shop.org and MarketingSherpa studies, less than 26 percent of retailers have customer ratings and reviews, yet 96 percent of the retailers that do have reviews find it to be an effective or highly effective feature. So what is stopping other retailers from adopting this feature?
In addition to technology and headcount obstacles, fear of negative reviews is one of the biggest hurdles that retailers -- most particularly, retail executives -- must overcome in order to embrace ratings and reviews. Yet through many clients and evidence we've found negative reviews not only to be necessary, but also valuable.

In a recent study focused on product reviews, Patti Freeman Evans, a Jupiter Analyst suggests, "Retailers must take the good with the bad when it comes to user-generated content.  But, because consumers are most likely to report on positive experiences, retailers need not be afraid of the other old adage, "Be careful what you wish for." Consumers expect to see both good and bad reviews. The good reviews validate seller product information; the bad provide the caveat emptor that retailers cannot provide themselves."

1. Customers are looking for negative reviews
According to an eVoc Insights study, 48 percent of consumers need to consult reviews before making an online purchase. What are they looking for?

I often ask friends and people I meet how they use reviews. Almost everyone describes looking for the negative comments to make sure they can live with any shortcomings in products they buy. We all know we don't live in a world of five-star products, and customers are desperate to know product blemishes before they make a purchase.

Lawrence Kerstan, CEO of Despair (those funny demotivational posters) recently bought a Lexus GS300 and researched it heavily online. What's the first thing he sought in his online research? Negative reviews. He had this car in mind, and the negative comments about the car were nit picks and factors that really didn't bother him. He had the information he needed to make the purchase.
If 48 percent of customers need to read reviews before making a purchase, they are looking for what could be wrong with a product. If they can't find it on your site, they're going to find it elsewhere.

"As for the product(s) with negative reviews -- my experience is that negative reviews do not hurt a product as long as there are also positive reviews associated with it." says Don Zeidler, Director of Direct Marketing for W. Atlee Burpee Co. "I'd guess that when customers see a mix of different ratings they are more apt to trust the review process. Secondly, we all know as marketers (or should know) customers who are interested in a particular product are only looking for affirmation or reassurance that the product is right for them; it's one they need to have. Negative reviews help customers affirm they've vetted all concerns before making a purchase decision. As long as the reviews are not entirely and overwhelmingly negative -- just nit picks that people decide they can live with (they usually are) -- these negative reviews help customers pass through purchase paralysis."

2. Negative reviews establish authenticity
Do you believe all of your products deserve five stars? You, like all consumers, know we don't live in a five star world. Customers know that if there aren't dissenting opinions about a product, then the opinions aren't real. If all they see are five-star reviews, they're reading testimonials, not authentic, credible customer reviews to help make a purchase decision.
For example, what's one of the best selling products so far this decade? The Apple iPod. It gets a ton of positive reviews, but one negative comment you'll see over and over again is that the surface of the iPod scratches easily. Customers say things that the retailer and Apple can't say: "When you buy this, get a case". Obviously this is not stopping customers from buying the iPod, but this constructive advice is getting them to buy a case. (iPod Accessories is a one billion dollar business!).

3. Negative reviews help the retailer's business
Negative reviews not only help customers make purchase decisions, they also help the retailer in several ways.
For example, negative reviews help improve customer satisfaction and lower returns. Consider a personal example. Amazon.com used to sell a toy called "Hot Wheels Slimecano". You can't find it through search, but you can find it here. The last time I looked, it had 177 reviews, almost all negative (1.5 star average rating). Several years ago, my wife purchased this toy from Hell for our son for Christmas. After an hour of frustrating attempts by my father and me to assemble this disaster, I was motivated enough to mash it back in the box, return it to the retailer and write a review on Amazon to warn others. When I got to the product details page, there were already over 100 negative reviews, one of them titled, "If you want your child to cry, buy this toy." I considered the title, "If you want your husband to cry, buy this toy!"

I wondered why Amazon was still selling this toy after such overwhelming negative response. How many dissatisfied, frustrated parents bought this toy, and how many returns did Amazon and other retailers suffer? Certainly the negative reviews helped reduced the sales and returns. But more importantly, if the retailer's mission is to be a trusted editor of its assortment, then products with overwhelmingly negative reviews should help prune this assortment quickly for the best products. After about a year and a half on the shelves, Amazon no longer sells the Slimecano.

If you are selling a bad product you have three choices:

  1. Without reviews, you keep selling the product and risk costly returns and low customer satisfaction

  2. With reviews, you can use the leading indicator of negative reviews and quickly remove this product from inventory to reduce returns and improve satisfaction

  3. Or, just allow the negative reviews to steer customers to a more satisfying purchase within the category. Let the best products win, and you will win.

In cases 2 and 3 you remain a trusted editor of the best products; customers are happy; you maintain their loyalty, and avoid a return.

Patti Freeman, in her analysis suggests, "Online shoppers who find reviews valuable are much more likely to say that they are less likely to return products that they've bought based on customer reviews they read online. This sentiment offers double benefit of lower return costs for the retailer and a corresponding bump in satisfaction because buyers get the item that fits their need."

4. There aren't many negative reviews
After the above three reasons, you might agree that negative reviews are a good thing. But if management is still concerned, here's the nuclear argument: positive reviews outweigh negative reviews seven to one.
Across all of Bazaarvoice clients, four and five-star reviews outnumber one and two-star ratings seven to one. Conventional wisdom suggests people talk more about negative experiences than positive ones. Perhaps this is the case for customer service experiences. For product word of mouth, however, the data refutes conventional wisdom.

A recent study by KellerFay group found nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of brand-related talk features products in a positive light, while less than one in 10 conversations feature products negatively.

And according to a recent Jupiter study on ratings and reviews, 60 percent of online shoppers provide feedback about shopping experiences, and they are more likely to give feedback about a positive experience than a negative one. 
So there you have it. You probably anticipate far more negative reviews than you get. For those you do get, they are a gift from the Gods of authenticity and credibility, which can help your business more than harm it.

Sam Decker is vice president of marketing and products for Bazaarvoice, Inc. Read full bio.

Sam Decker is Co-Founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, a social engagement platform that discovers, filters, and displays real-time content anywhere.  Prior to Mass Relevance, Sam was founding Chief Marketing Officer at Bazaarvoice, the leader in...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Richard Halls

2010, October 16

We have recently started our Yelp Alert service that might be of interest.

We gather the last 60 days of Yelp reviews that have a 3 star rating or lower as they are generally negative.

When a review with a 3 star rating or lower is posted on Yelp we send an email Yelp Alert.

Examples are shown on our site along with review responses that could be considered.

Richard Halls

Commenter: Raven Docor

2010, February 13

Oh yeah. I seemed to have forgotten to include the name of the PR firm I hired. Sorry about that. For those who are interested the company's name is Reputec.

Commenter: Raven Docor

2010, February 13

I agree with this article. It is because of the presence of negative reviews that people actually do their best to positively advertise themselves or their products. Actually, I have used an online PR form before and they generated a lot of positive content about my business. In the end, their work gave me more clients to work with.