The positive side of negative customer reviews

At a time when the big chains have more buying power than ever, finding ways to differentiate and grow an independent retail brand is very important. User generated content, in the form of customer endorsements and online reviews, are a powerful way to achieve this and help consumers to decide whether they should buy from a particular retailer.

Online reviews are the modern-day equivalent of the ‘word of mouth’ our parents would have relied on a mere 10 or 15 years ago. According to independent research conducted by e-commerce specialists 3DCart, 71% of consumers said that customer reviews made them more comfortable about buying a product and 82% of consumers reported that reading past customer reviews made the buying decision easier.

But just as customers rely on reviews to inform their purchasing decisions, they also appreciate their power to vent dissatisfaction very publically. Consequently, people are much more vocal about sharing their experiences of quality or service and they won’t hesitate to use social media to tell the world. It’s like an extra insurance policy.

Although retailers dread the prospect of receiving negative reviews, it’s actually an inevitable part of trading and there’s a positive side to consider. Things go wrong, mistakes are made and you can’t please everyone all of the time. It also tends to bemore common for customers to have a moan than to leave positive comments, but retailers tend to panic when it happens and it’s hard to know what to do in these situations.

A bad or negative review will happen for every business at some stage, they are a part and parcel of business life today. It is a consumer’s right to leave feedback and most people understand that a business will have the odd bad review. Clearly, negative reviews will impact a buyer’s decision making, but there are positive and negative aspects to consider. What’s more important is how you as a retailer deal with negative feedback and whether you use it as a chance to learn, be grateful even. Remember, if they hadn’t raised the issue, you would never have known there was a problem.

Additionally, by having been actively collecting reviews anyway, the chances are you will have a larger proportion of positive reviews already. So when something negative occurs, it simply gets diluted in among the good ones. That’s good planning. When a bad review happens it’s good to consider why reviews are important in the first place; to help develop trust and demonstrate transparency. Although no one wants negative reviews, displaying them openly does demonstrate transparency.

Rather than try to conceal lower-rated reviews, known as ‘white-washing’, it’s far better to acknowledge them and be seen to be responding appropriately. Consumer research has shown that customers are more likely to trust brands and businesses that aren’t afraid to be transparent, even if that means sharing poorer experiences, and acknowledging where things were not perfect.

Rather than viewing poor reviews negatively as a threat to potential sales, see them as an opportunity. A customer has shared some information about your products or services and given you a chance to learn about important issues and make improvements. Consider the alternative – they could have gone away dissatisfied and not said anything.

Not only would you have lost a customer, you wouldn’t know the reasons why and be in a position to address any problems. From a potential consumer’s perspective, when they encounter negative reviews, they will be more interested in how you as a supplier dealt with the problem. As much as a positive review is reassuring, it’s equally important to know that a retailer is listening and that when problems occur, they are handled professionally and openly. This all adds to the authenticity of a brand and an important part of building trust.

Gavin Mullins is the CEO of and an expert in helping companies to benefit from user generated content (UGC).

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