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Jan 29, 2009 | 4 minute read

Thinking Positively About Negative Reviews

written by Linda Bustos

Sucharita Mulpuru and Forrester Research recently released a report called Myths And Truths About Online Customer Reviews. The report covers a lot of ground, but I want to hone in on customer behavior after reading negative reviews. Many retailers have avoided adding reviews for fear negative reviews will hurt sales, despite the proven conversion benefits they deliver.

From the report, here are 7 actions consumers take after reading not-so-shining reviews (customers may take more than one action)

“After reading negative customer ratings/reviews about a specific product on a retailer’s Web site, how do you respond?”

  • 47% search for an alternative product
  • 37% read professional/editor-written reviews of the product
  • 26% continue to shop for the product regardless of the negative ratings/reviews
  • 18% look for a retailer/manufacturer that offers a money-back guarantee
  • 7% contact the retailer for clarification of the issues raised in the negative review
  • 7% contact the manufacturer for clarification of the issues raised in the negative review
  • 6% post a follow-up question for the author of the negative review

Base: 2,890 US Web buyers who read and/or post online customer ratings/reviews on retail sites (multiple responses accepted)

Source: Myths And Truths About Online Customer Reviews Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research December 2008

How does your website address the actions customers take after encountering a negative review?

8 Ways to Save Sales from Negative Customer Reviews

1. Add link back to category that allows sort-by-customer-review.

Link to category (

Sort by Customer Review on category page (

2. Include star ratings on cross-sells.

When showing alternative items (cross-sells and similar items), it may be helpful for the customer to sort similar items by star rating if you show more than a few suggestions on the product page.

Before / After:

3. Use Expert / Staff Reviews

Including an official staff/expert review and marking it as such builds trust with the product AND your call center. Make it "sticky" as part of your product page so it doesn't get lost in the haystack of customer reviews.

If you don't have an official staff review, you can have staff submit reviews and be identified as such with the Power Reviews product (below) or with your own custom build:

Bonus for expert video reviews, like Crutchfield:

Crutchfield also includes a "Customer Favorite" and the "Staff Favorite" on category pages above product results:

4. Show money back guarantees right on product page when available

Backcountry already links to a 100% Guarantee, but the link is not very conspicuous. The guarantee badge is not so pretty, but it stands out being more proximal to the product image.



5. Allow customers to ask and answer questions on your page. Like Bazaarvoice offers or Backcountry built in-house:

6. Include manufacturer's website URL and contact number on the product page.



Make sure the link opens in a new window so you don't lose your customer, and warn about the new window.

7. Enable comments on customer reviews.

According to the research, 6% post follow up questions for the reviewer (Amazon allows you to leave a comment on a review which may include a question). But there is no guarantee the review writer will ever come back to answer the question.

If you set up a system in your community where a reviewer gets alerted of comments on their reviews, these may become spammy/annoying -- unless your incentives for community participation are attractive enough to that reviewer to come back and answer the question(s).

But there's still value to comments. With a comment thread, even if the reviewer doesn't answer the question, other community members can. And even better, a negative review may be clarified by a comment.

For example, a common complaint for GPS systems is slow satellite acquisition. A commenter on a review at Amazon replied: "Our satellite acquisition problems on the [model] were completely solved via a software update, which the CSR walked us through."

Another responded "Unfortunately, it sounds like the receiver chip in your unit is probably the **** chip (not well received) instead of the *** chip (highly received). Hopefully a firmware update will help."

Now shoppers reading reviews can understand there is a solution to the problem with the product, and decide whether it's an acceptable problem and solution.

8. Know when to offer live chat. Here's where you can get creative. Consider tagging customers who sort by average customer review on the category page with an attribute that associates them with an interest in customer reviews. If they linger on the product page for more than X minutes, invite them to chat.

This can also help you control live chat costs. You don't want to offer your CSR services to every single customer. Customers who always sort by lowest price are likely A) less profitable and B) not concerned with chatting about the qualitative virtues of a product. They rely on your search and sort features to tell them if a product/price is attractive or not. Pop-ups interrupt this process and may irritate customers.

Think Positively About Negative Reviews

The recent Belkin fiasco is a perfect example of why you should welcome negative reviews - without a few negatives the reviews seem inauthentic. Customers want to see a mix of positive and negative reviews - so offer them, but make sure you support the customer who wants additional information, alternative suggestions or personal assistance.

And don't forget, accepting negative reviews also helps your copywriting.