Turns Out Negative Product Reviews Aren't All That Bad

Life repeatedly teaches us to find the silver lining--to expose the good within the bad. For retailers, this means turning negative product reviews into positive learning opportunities.
Customer Engagement

Life repeatedly teaches us to find the silver lining--to expose the good within the bad. For retailers, this means turning negative product reviews into positive learning opportunities.At first glance, negative reviews may appear harmful to the bottom line. But if companies look closely, this unsolicited feedback truly offers countless chances to improve customer experience and brand relationships. "Negative reviews offer the opportunity for brands to interact and improve relationships with consumers," says Theresa O'Neil, senior vice president of marketing at PowerReviews. "By reaching out and truly understanding customer concerns, brands can not only improve their products, but also foster long-term loyalty and satisfaction."

Here, we speak with O'Neil to further explore the good and bad behind these ugly reviews and what retailers can do to turn the tables and come out on top:

1to1 Media: Why are product reviews an essential part of the customer journey?

Theresa O'Neil: In a recent study, 95 percent of shoppers reported consulting customer reviews when deciding when, where, and how to buy. In fact, nearly one in four said they rely on reviews for every purchase they make, proving that reviews have become an essential part of the purchase process. Consumers expect reviews to be readily available and will turn to third-party sources if brands and retailers don't provide them.

1to1: Why are brands often tempted to remove negative reviews from their site? Why are such reviews actually important to the consumer's decision-making process?

TO: Brands are often tempted to remove negative reviews from their site because they know how much consumers rely on reviews to inform their product decisions. But we live in the age of the ultra-educated and sometimes ultra-skeptical consumer. Shoppers know that every item can't be perfect. Every item can't be the biggest, fastest, lightest, and highest quality. So when shoppers come across a five-star rating, it's often perceived as "too good to be true."

Negative reviews help establish brand credibility and trust because the absence of negative ratings can be seen as suspicious. In addition to building trust, negative reviews help customers make smarter purchase decisions and identify the products that are right for their particular needs. For example, if a product's negative reviews revolve around difficult assembly, but other aspects are given strong marks, a consumer who's handy may go ahead with the purchase. And validation, even from a negative review, can be the boost of confidence needed to turn browsers into confident buyers.

1to1: What are some steps brands must take in order to turn negative reviews into positive experiences? How can they effectively use such reviews to their advantage and improve customer relationships?

TO: To turn negative reviews into learning opportunities, brands must do two things:

- Build relationships with customers: If customers are talking about your brand and products in reviews--whether positive or negative--it's an opportunity to start a conversation and engage them. People like to know that their feedback is heard and addressing reviews is a simple way to accomplish this. When responding to negative reviews, remember to empathize with the customer's frustrations and thank them for their feedback. Provide a customer care phone number or other method to contact your customer service team to see how else you can help resolve the issue. And since negative feedback can be a valuable source of product information, consider instating internal processes to monitor reviews and respond when there are product concerns, issues, or other helpful feedback.

- Improve products: All reviews, especially negative ones, give brands and retailers insight into customer sentiment and areas that need improvement. Specialty gift retailer Hammacher Schlemmer uses negative feedback to improve its products. For example, one watch received a 2.7 star average rating with many reviewers making specific complaints about the watch's clasp. Hammacher's team was able to go back to the manufacturer to fix the clasp and the watch's average star rating is now up to 4.3 stars.

1to1: What value do negative reviews ultimately add to a brand? How can these trigger positive conversations that actually boost satisfaction and loyalty?

TO: Negative reviews establish transparency and trust between a brand and its customers, so it's incredibly important for brands to display honest feedback and engage with the customers leaving it. By displaying negative reviews, you're showing consumers that your brand has nothing to hide. In addition, negative reviews drive sales. As mentioned, products with a perfect five-star rating are seen as too good to be true. We recently partnered with Northwestern University and found that consumers are most likely to purchase a product with an average star rating between 4.2 and 4.5 stars. While it's of the utmost importance to make quality products, a couple negative reviews among generally positive ones will help you reach an ideal star rating.