Almost every client we begin working with asks the question about negative reviews. And almost every client, once they're about a month from launch, wonders why they were worried to begin with. Part of this concern is relieved by the Ratings "J Curve", where 80% of ratings submitted are 4s or 5s. Al Hurlebaus, Sr. Director eCommerce for CompUSA said, "Before we launched reviews my anxiety-level was a 9 out of 10. Today it is a 1." 

But there's more to this topic. Is it possible that negative reviews help increase conversion? Definitive data is not in (yet), but I attended a shop.org Annual Summit several years ago where Amazon and eBags hinted in a panel discussion that products with mixed reviews helped conversion. Consumers we talk to say they look for negative reviews first to help them make the purchase decision. Without them, they lack the necessary information to move forward. And from this anecdotal focus group, they suggest that negative reviews rarely stop them from buying unless the reviews are all negative or include a negative comment of a feature that was important to them.

Don Zeidler, Director of Direct Marketing for the W. Atlee Burpee Co. (Burpee Seeds), believes negative reviews help their business. Burpee was one of Bazaarvoice's first manufacturer clients. That is to say they are featuring reviews on the products they sell — so they certainly have a lot riding on their customer reviews! Here's what he says:

"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.  I'd guess that when customers see a mix of different ratings they are more apt to trust the review process. Second, as we all know as marketers (or should know) customers that 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."

Don Zeidler is the Director of Direct Marketing for the W. Atlee Burpee Co., a 130-year-old brand famous for revolutionizing home gardening in America. Beginning in the late 1800's Burpee's slogan—"Burpee Seeds Grow"—was the guarantee that raised the bar (and profits) in what was at the time a "seedy" business of selling to farmers in an agrarian society. Much has changed over the years but not the trusted quality the Burpee name means to home gardeners. Don is responsible for Burpee's web site development and management, e-mail marketing and programs, as well as e-commerce performance. His offline responsibilities include catalog circulation, advertising, and ancillary product merchandising. Don has close to 20 years direct marketing experience and brought Burpee online in 1996. His application of sound direct marketing strategies in a dot-com environment is a major component of Burpee's continued on-line success.

4 Responses to ““Negative reviews do not hurt a product…””

  1. Brett Hurt

    I heard from Stuart Wallock, former Director of Marketing at Newegg.com, this week about how negative reviews were incredibly important to driving conversion on Newegg. Newegg is a standard-bearer of sorts with regards to reviews, leveraging them throughout email campaigns and site search, generating over 1,000 reviews per day.

  2. Brett Hurt

    I heard from Stuart Wallock, former Director of Marketing at Newegg.com, this week about how negative reviews were incredibly important to driving conversion on Newegg. Newegg is a standard-bearer of sorts with regards to reviews, leveraging them throughout email campaigns and site search, generating over 1,000 reviews per day.

  3. I tend to agree with the notion that negative reviews help online shopping conversion. It has been my experience that if consumer reviews for products appear to live within the consumer site where the product will be purchased that consumers are weary of trusting the authenticity of the review unless there are a small percentage of negative reviews. With the existance of both positive and negative reviews a consumer can be confident that these are not reviews posted by by the website’s interns. :)

    We have had to guide several of our clients with the decision to incorporate reviews that live within their corporate shell of their own site, or create some sort of consumer review sitelet that appears to not be corporately hosted to avoid weary consumer syndrome.

    If you can pull off a consumer review tool that appears to live within the site (even though it may be externally hosted) and doesn’t appear to be corporately tainted (such as what bazaarvoice has done so well for clients such as Amazon and Overstock) you are pushing your clients toward success.

    Negative reviews must exist to sell, sell, sell! The flip side of that is that if a product has a huge percentage of negative reviews, it will deter consumer purchase. This should be viewed as a positive thing to the site because they know to pull the not-so-good product off the shelves!

    Luke Hejl
    T3 Advertising

  4. I tend to agree with the notion that negative reviews help online shopping conversion. It has been my experience that if consumer reviews for products appear to live within the consumer site where the product will be purchased that consumers are weary of trusting the authenticity of the review unless there are a small percentage of negative reviews. With the existance of both positive and negative reviews a consumer can be confident that these are not reviews posted by by the website’s interns. :)

    We have had to guide several of our clients with the decision to incorporate reviews that live within their corporate shell of their own site, or create some sort of consumer review sitelet that appears to not be corporately hosted to avoid weary consumer syndrome.

    If you can pull off a consumer review tool that appears to live within the site (even though it may be externally hosted) and doesn’t appear to be corporately tainted (such as what bazaarvoice has done so well for clients such as Amazon and Overstock) you are pushing your clients toward success.

    Negative reviews must exist to sell, sell, sell! The flip side of that is that if a product has a huge percentage of negative reviews, it will deter consumer purchase. This should be viewed as a positive thing to the site because they know to pull the not-so-good product off the shelves!

    Luke Hejl
    T3 Advertising

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