User Reviews aren’t just important — they are critical to users’ purchasing decision, and to users’ ability to even make an informed purchasing decision.
During Baymard’s (web usability research institute) large-scale usability testing, 95% of users relied on reviews to evaluate or learn more about products . In some cases users would even rely on the review descriptions instead of the information provided by the site (product descriptions or spec sheets).
>> After the product images, user reviews are the most utilized part of the product page when users are trying to evaluate a product’s suitability.
With this in mind, it’s vital to allow users to submit product reviews on a site (which 92% of e-commerce sites do). But that’s not enough. Users are very likely to sort or filter customer reviews to view the negative reviews, not just the positive ones. In fact, on average and across e-commerce sites 53% of users specifically seek out the negative reviews for one or more products they are interested in. Because of this, the likelihood of users processing some negative reviews for the specific product they are viewing is very high.
“I don’t want to just read the perfect reviews. I want to see what its shortcomings are.” A user said, while clicking the ratings distribution summary in order to filter ratings by three-star reviews.
More importantly, the testing also shows that 37% of users positively factor in any site responses to negative reviews into both their evaluation of the negative review, their overall evaluation of the product, and their overall perception of the site. Yet, benchmarking reveals that 87% of e-commerce sites don’t respond to the negative reviews, not even on their most popular products sold.
Why Negative Reviews Aren’t all that Bad
Negative reviews are inevitable. Even the strongest brands and the most loved companies will not be able to please everyone all the time. But, not all negative product reviews are bad for the e-commerce site. They do, in fact, have their uses.
A negative review may simply let a subset of users know whether or not a product is suited to their needs. Repeatedly, users scanned the negative reviews as part of their “purchase due diligence process”, confirming that the negative reviews were only addressing aspects that weren’t important to what they were looking for (i.e. a user stating that vacuum does not handle pet hair would not be that important to someone that doesn’t own a pet).
Because users will want to seek out negative reviews, it’s critical to offer users the ability to use the rating distribution summary as “star filters”.
B&H Photo goes as far as highlighting negative reviews at the top of the reviews section. In this case, a user unconcerned with the video capabilities of the camera would likely not let this review negatively impact their evaluation of the camera. Users concerned with the video capabilities are likely better off choosing one of the hundreds of other cameras offered at the site.
Negative reviews serve several important functions for an e-commerce site:
- They help users succeed in finding the right product (for them). In the user’s product exploration process, quickly being able to dismiss non-matching products (based on information in a negative review) can help speed up the process of locating another alternative product on the site, and make users confident enough in the newly chosen alternative that they go ahead and place the order.
- Negative reviews increase trustworthiness of the overall product rating. Users commonly seek out negative reviews because they do not trust only positive reviews.
- Negative reviews are an important feedback mechanism. Lastly, negative reviews carry a wealth of important information. For sites selling multiple brands, the negative reviews help the site identify products or brands that they should stop carrying entirely, or highlight gaps in their product offering.
Most importantly, while sites are powerless over what negative reviews will be submitted and what those negative reviews will say — sites do have a lot of control over how negative product reviews will impact other users’ perception of the site and brand itself.
Why Sites Should Reply to Negative Reviews
Responding to negative reviews marks an opportunity for sites to mitigate potentially damaging sentiments left by a reviewer. When company responses were provided on negative reviews, 37% of users factored the site’s response positively into their evaluation of the negative review, their evaluation of the product, and their evaluation of the e-commerce the brand itself.
“He wrote this on April 17. and he got a reply on April 22…I feel more comfortable with this product and Lowe’s as a company. I know that if another product I buy has this problem they are gonna do their best to solve the problem. It just dissuades me from that one product, it does not dissuade me away from Broil King as a whole.” A user was confident in purchasing from Lowe’s and with the Broil King brand after reading the site’s response to a negative review.
A site’s response to a negative review is broadcasted to all future users who scans through the review section.
Even if a response to a negative review does not change the dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one, it does have the positive attribute of showing new users that the company does “care” and offers an easily reachable customer support. This can disarm users upfront purchasing anxiety, of fearing the scenario of ending up with a malfunctioned product and not being able to get help or a replacement.
Understandably, responding to all negative reviews may be unfeasible with particularly large catalogs and a very active review base. Ideally, all negative users should be responded to in some way. But if not possible, e-commerce sites should ensure at the least that negative reviews on popular or important products are replied to, along with products where the proportion of negative to positive reviews are heavily skewed.
How to Style the Site’s Responses to Negative Reviews
By surrounding the reply in a box and including a clear header (“Response from Nike”), Nike make the difference between a user review and a site response clear.
In order for site responses to be helpful, they should be noticeable, and easy to discern from the review itself. Responses that look too much like reviews can be easily dismissed or overlooked by users, canceling out any benefit of having them there in the first place.
The exact type of styling is not crucial, it’s just key to somehow make the information as scannable and easy to recognise as possible.
Considering that 53% of users specifically seek out negative reviews and 37% of users factor in the site’s response into their evaluation of the brand and the product, it’s detrimental to ignore them. This means that the 87% of e-commerce sites that aren’t responding to negative reviews are missing out on an opportunity to help their users.
When it comes to user reviews and responses, remember to:
- Allow all users to submit user reviews (8% of sites currently don’t).
- Respond to all (or at least some) negative reviews, especially on popular products (87% of sites currently don’t).
- Style the site responses differently so it’s clear that it’s a reply and not just another user’s review.
PS. When you highlight “the worst review” at the top and immediately address it in a way that either solves the problem or shows that the problem was not in the product after all, you can turn the worst review into a good one.