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:
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.