“Honey, do these jeans make me look bad?”

We’ve all faced that awkward moment when someone asks you for your honest feedback on a given topic, and you hesitate to give it because you know it may hurt their feelings or cause other repercussions. It’s not fair to punish someone for providing their honest feedback, even if it’s negative and particularly when feedback was requested.

As a company that has been in the ratings and reviews space for over a decade, we’ve seen thousands of negative reviews circulate through our network. Negative reviews are important for both companies and consumers — they provide a fair counterbalance to positive reviews and help build credibility and trust among your customer base. They also can lead to product improvements. Despite this, contrary to Bazaarvoice’s position, some companies have taken steps to downplay negative reviews or overly inflate positive ones. Some companies have paid for fake positive reviews about their products, and some organizations have buried non-disparagement clauses in their terms and conditions in an attempt to silence potential negative opinions from customers.

Keeping review content authentic is critical. We invest heavily in fraud detection processes to weed out fake reviews and our Bazaarvoice Authenticity policy does not support clients who include onerous terms and conditions that muzzle consumers’ rights to post negative reviews. Other leaders in the review space like Yelp and TripAdvisor share our concern and have committed to ensuring review authenticity.

But it’s not just us — Congress was similarly concerned about companies stifling the legitimate and honest feedback of their customers through penalty and prohibition clauses in their customer contracts. Former President Barack Obama signed the Consumer Review Fairness Act (HR 5111) into law late in 2016. This bill ensures that consumers can rest easy; they cannot be sued or penalized for leaving a negative review. Specifically, the law voids any provision of a contract that prohibits, restricts, or imposes penalties on an individual for leaving honest review feedback if that feedback is not otherwise unlawful, false or objectionable. Additionally, the law voids any provision of a contract that requires an individual to transfer the intellectual property rights in review or feedback content, except for a non-exclusive license to use the content.

We’ve seen clients who embrace negative reviews and others who bristle at negative feedback on their websites. Our goal is to help all companies understand and appreciate the importance of negative reviews and use authentic feedback from customers as an opportunity to learn and improve their products or businesses. We are firm believers that instead of trying to suppress negative comments, companies and business owners should embrace them. In fact, there are several ways that businesses can benefit from negative reviews:

Negative reviews build authenticity.

Customers are used to seeing a mix of positive and negative reviews and have come to expect authenticity when making their purchase decisions. They don’t scare away easily from a few bad reviews, so companies should think twice before deciding to remove or hide negative comments on their websites. In fact, it can be the opposite. We see products that have 1 or more negative reviews have higher conversion rates than those that have only positive reviews. Furthermore, when products or services have an abundance of overly positive reviews, consumers tend to assume that the content is fake or that negative content has been moderated out. In that scenario, suppressing negative content or providing artificial reviews can actually backfire and damage a customer or retailer relationship.

Negative reviews aren’t always “bad”.

No two customers are the same. Customers value different qualities in products and what may be considered negative for one person may be irrelevant, or even positive, to another. For example, I was recently searching online for a pair of quality running socks. The positive reviews from other runners gave me great information about the product, but I also read the negative comments too. The biggest complaint was that the socks didn’t keep your feet warm in the winter. Given that I live in Texas and having cold feet is the least of my worries, this complaint was irrelevant to me and didn’t deter me from buying the product.

Negative reviews can set expectations.

Understandably, customers love getting good deals on products, but sometimes you have to sacrifice product quality to lower cost. Customers rely heavily on reviews to determine which products to buy, and they often purchase products with lower-star ratings because they are cheaper. By reading authentic reviews, customers can learn, understand, and decide what qualities they’re willing to give up to save money, and, therefore, are not surprised or upset when a known issue, like short battery life, crops up.

Negative reviews can surface problems – and often solutions.

Negative reviews are a powerful way to gain insights into problems with your products, and paying attention to customer feedback presents a tremendous opportunity to respond and fix problems that dissatisfy your customers. Numerous Bazaarvoice clients have identified issues with their products based on negative customer reviews and have taken actions to improve them. This is empowering for customers and creates a world with better products, which is a win-win situation for both the company and the customer.

All reviews, negative and positive, have an important place in the online shopping experience. With the Consumer Review Fairness Act, consumers should feel safe and empowered to leave fair and honest reviews about any good or service. At Bazaarvoice, we firmly believe the entire marketplace benefits from exchanging honest feedback, and this environment should be safeguarded and protected.

This is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. This document is provided as-is, and Bazaarvoice disclaims any warranties associated with this document, including but not limited to the thoroughness of accuracy of information or related website links.