Accentuate the Negative – How Negative Reviews Provide Authenticity and Balanced Feedback

Two millennial consumers hanging out featured image

What’s the old adage – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is? This also holds for consumer reviews on brands’ and retailers’ sites, according to a study of shoppers of consumer packaged goods. It’s hard to imagine a product that meets and exceeds the needs and wants of literally every buyer.

Expecting even the most excellent product – as well as its price and customer service – to merit a 5-star rating every time is unrealistic. Perfection is a wonderful goal to aim for, but achieving it in the real world is unlikely. Most shoppers feel this way too: purchase likelihood peaks when the average star rating of a product is between 4.2 and 4.5 stars. Once the star rating surpasses 4.5 stars, the likelihood of purchase surprisingly drops.

Of course, consumers still hope to see a generally higher star rating to be convinced to purchase – in this same study, a 3-star rating is clearly shown to be less impressive to serious buyers than a 4-star one. So how do you make a positive out of a negative?

The Power of Negativity

Let’s say, however, that a specific product is truly fantastic – worthy of a 5-star review in the opinion of most. That doesn’t mean that someone won’t have a legitimate reason to give a bad review of this product on occasion. Hey, they might even give a bad review because they were annoyed at something else that day and a minor issue became major to them.  

In one example, let’s say the buyer ordered something for a friend’s surprise birthday party. The item itself was exactly as described by the brand or retailer and would have achieved a 5-star review, except it arrived after the date promised (before the party). Because of the delay, the consumer believed the whole point of the item was ruined and the negative review appeared. This was an important part of that consumer’s reason for buying, and although mistakes do happen there should be accountability.

In another case, perhaps the product performed exactly as described, arrived on time, and otherwise would seem likely to earn a 4- or 5-star rating. But the buyer thought the item – a spiralizer – would make a special type of zucchini noodle (‘zoodle’) based on what they had in a restaurant once. Though the actual product description never purported to make that shape, it received a low rating due to the shopper’s disappointment, whether or not it seems fair.

Real Consumers Have Authentic Experiences, and Seek Them from Others

What do these examples have in common? They are real, and they’ve happened to most shoppers at one time or another. So when a consumer is on the brand’s or retailer’s site and looking at reviews, it’s not surprising to see a rare negative review for even the best product. All 5-star raves with zero room for flaw seem unauthentic – as if only the close friends and family of the sellers of the product wrote the reviews on the site. It’s ok if a product is fantastic for most, and just doesn’t fit the specific requirements for a few for such-and-such reason.

So the moral of this story is to put your retailer or brand in your consumers’ shoes and remember what they want:

  1. To see reviews on your site to help them decide to make the purchase in the first place
  2. A product that is rated highly, but where the ratings don’t appear biased or false
  3. Acknowledgement that every product, brand, retailer or even reviewer can have a bad day, and that an occasional negative review is realistic.

Is your brand or retailer ready to accept that the occasional negative review doesn’t have to be a negative in your conversion rate? See this post for reinforcement of this paradox. To learn more about the other powers of reviews, read here.


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