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

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