AK-AngryCustomerFor awhile, the conventional wisdom online was that negative reviews typically helped sales by lending credibility to positive reviews, so long as the positive reviews significantly outweighed the negative.

Of course, it’s a lot dicier than that, though, isn’t it?  A ream of other factors come to mind almost instantly, for anyone who has ever shopped on Amazon or Zappos or any other review-heavy site:

  • How articulate and specific are the negative reviews?
  • How much are the negative reviews in agreement about the failings of the product?
  • How damning are these specific faults?
  • Do any of them contradict your brand promise?
  • Do any of the positive reviews countermand the points raised by the negative reviews?

But the question remains: on average, how many negative reviews does it take to make a shopper reconsider a purchase?

The answer, it turns out, is somewhere around three.

And that sounds about right for anything but books, movies, and music — those categories are different, since polarizing ideas and art attract as much as they repulse.

Still, even accepting the 3 negative review rule, there’s a big difference between a negative review of a shoe on Zappos and a negative review on your Website, I’ll bet.  Here’s why:

1) You’re likely either a manufacturer or curator of the products you sell

If Walmart has a badly reviewed item, they can just drop it. Plus, they likely have several other options for customers to choose from. That bad review doesn’t truly reflect on them.  And it’s the same thing with Zappos.

But if you actually MAKE the products, it’s a different story. Especially if that bad review contradicts your marketed quality claims. If you manufacture computer backpacks, for example, and your claim to fame is tough functionality, then negative review over a a bag that frayed and became all-but unserviceable in only 6 months represents a much bigger problem for you than for a mass e-tailer like ebags.com

Similarly, if you’re a small retailer specializing in, say, stereo equipment, and you market yourself as the audiophile’s choice and the place for the discriminating buyer, then the lines and brands you carry and the equipment you sell all carry with them an implicit recommendation: if you’re carrying it, it must be good. So a negative review becomes an attack on your expertise/recommendation.  Not good.

2) You’re likely competing on quality and customer satisfaction

Whether a negative review is fair or not, it almost always betokens an unhappy customer.  Occasionally, the reviewer might commend your resolution of their complaint or dissatisfaction within their negative review, but this is far more the exception than the rule. Most negative reviews just trash the product.  And if your brand promise centers around satisfaction, negative reviews of this kind hurt your credibility.

What Lands End Could Learn from Orvis

So I was looking at buying a new blazer recently, and came across the following reviews of Lands’ End’s Year Round Blazer:




So, you get the picture right?  Lots of reviews calling Land’s End out on dramatically reduced quality and sub-par value for the price point.  And quality and value ARE this brands supposed calling cards, so you’d think that Land’s End might want to DO something about that.

But then, what can they do?  They’ve promised to post all honest reviews, so they have to let the negative reviews stand.

Well, they could do what Orvis does when a negative review pops up.  Take a look:


And that’s how you do it.  You REMIND your customers of your satisfaction guarantees and you visibly show potential shoppers that you did everything possible to resolve the issues brought forth in the review.

Now, Amazon and Zappos probably can’t do that, due to the sheer number of SKUs and reviews they deal with. But YOU can and should do it.

So when it comes to customer reviews, be like Orvis not Land’s End.


  1. Kevin on 05.05.2012

    Bottom line is who cares if they reach out to you?

    It still doesnt solve your problem. So what if they remind you that the items you’re not happy with can be returned? Lands End does a pretty good job of promoting their guaranteed period return policy.

  2. Jeff on 05.05.2012


    First, the blog is written from the business owner’s perspective, not the customers. And, yes, letting your other customers know that you made an effort to resolve a customers complaint does help “solve” — or at least mitigate — the problem that their bad review posed for you. But to address your comment, as asked, if your an unhappy customer, having a company representative reach out and attempt to “make things right” does indeed help, even if the “help” offered isn’t anything more than the refund that they supposedly guarantee anyway. Why? Because at least someone RESPONDED to your complaint and ATTEMPTED to resolve your problem.

    No, this won’t work if the product is irredeemably shitty and the business makes no attempt to fix it. Then again, nothing will help that situation! But for companies with genuinely solid products, reaching out to disgruntled customers offers them a chance to suggest an alternative product, some instructions for use, etc.

    – Jeff