Blog / Marketing tips / How to Handle Bad Reviews on Your Online Store
Imagine you’re an online shopper. You’re looking for the perfect brown leather satchel that will last for years. You’ve been saving up for a while and you want to spend your money wisely. Then you find an online store that sells beautiful leather satchels. There’s one but. How do you know they’re good quality? How do you know if the straps can hold a lot of weight? What if it’s not real leather?
I know how frustrating that situation can be because I’ve been that customer, unsure whether I can trust some obscure online store with my money. So what do you do? You do what I did—inspect the product reviews to make sure the satchel is good quality and will survive if I fill it to the brink. And I’m not the only one. Studies show that 91% of customers tend to check reviews before making a purchase.
In ecommerce, customer reviews are essential for three reasons. First of all, they convince potential shoppers that you’re trustworthy and have great products. Physical stores have the advantage that you can always check their products in person. Online stores don’t offer that opportunity. You can’t touch the fabric or try on a pair of shoes to see how they fit, so feedback from other shoppers provides a glimpse into the quality of the products.
Secondly, customer reviews give social proof. The more you show other people using, enjoying, or approving of your products, the more likely it is that a new shopper will be interested in your product. It’s essentially a digital version of word-of-mouth-marketing. In my case, seeing photos of satisfied customers showing off their brand-new satchels convinced me that it’s safe to order one.
And thirdly, customer feedback is necessary for your store to rank higher in search results. Customer reviews signal Google that this is a fresh, frequently-updated website. The more positive reviews your store has, the higher it’ll rank in search results.
You read that right, bad reviews are important. Turns out, there are several reasons for keeping them on your store, and we’ll cover the most important ones right here.
The saying “too good to be true’’ has a grain of truth in ecommerce. Customers know that no product is perfect for everyone. That’s why they want to find out if there are any features that won’t work for them. Research confirms this as well—82% of customers deliberately seek out bad reviews. Those negative reviews reassure them that your store isn’t hiding anything.
Your reaction to the negative feedback, however, provides a valuable insight into what happens in the worst-case scenario and what sort of behavior customers can expect from you.
14 people found the above review helpful because it provided honest feedback of any potential pitfalls of the product.
While ignoring bad reviews might feel like the easiest course of action, by doing so you miss valuable information. Instead, think of them as a gateway to your customer’s mind. After all, your clients are the ones interacting with your product. If there are any areas that need tweaking, your customers are in the best position to let you know that, so use their feedback to your advantage.
While bad reviews can have a negative impact on your reputation, your response to them offers a chance to improve your image. Use the situation to show your accountability and exceptional customer service, and steer clear of anything that sounds like a sales pitch.
There’s nothing more off-putting for a potential client than to see a store owner arguing with a customer in the reviews section. Even if the customer is wrong, remain calm and professional. When you reply, the spotlight’s on you, so show off your best assets.
Keep in mind that while bad reviews help you improve, you should focus on generating positive reviews. Some experts argue that it takes roughly 40 four- and five-star reviews to undo the damage of a single negative review.
Now that you’ve learned how bad reviews can be helpful, let’s look at the best ways to respond to them. Handling criticism can be a challenge, but we’ve prepared some principles to follow that will help you navigate these waters safely.
Rule number one is—reply as soon as possible. If you take too long to reply to a disgruntled customer, they might reach out to your competitor. Consumers expect a reply within a week, so it’s best to meet that expectation.
Have you ever experienced a non-apology? You know, one that goes something like: “I’m sorry if I hurt you?’’ These types of apologies aren’t really apologies. They’re an attempt to avoid responsibility for bad behavior.
It’s the same with negative reviews. Don’t just stop at “sorry to hear that’’—get to the bottom of the incident and find out what happened. Was it a fault on your side, something that you could’ve avoided? Or was it simply a misfortune, something out of your control?
You don’t have to go into all the nitty-gritty details, but like all genuine apologies, yours also needs an explanation of why the mistake happened and how you’re going to fix the problem.
This is a text-book example of responding to negative reviews badly. The business owner offers no explanation of what happened, neither do they apologize. Instead, the customer gets the classic ‘’sorry, if we failed ’’ apology.
This should go without saying, but make sure to show the customer that you understand and empathize with their situation even if they’ve been wrong. Put yourself in their shoes—wouldn’t you feel disappointed if something that you ordered online and really waited for didn’t turn out to be the way you had hoped?
Acknowledge you understand their frustration and tell them what the next step is towards fixing the issue. Cosmetics manufacturer Ulta Beauty does a great job at that.
Not every bad review deserves equal amounts of attention. Research suggests that 10–15% of online reviews are fake or paid for. Here are some signs to look out for:
When you have a review that checks off one or all of these points, make sure to respond anyway, but don’t invest too much energy and time crafting an elaborate reply. A simple apology and an invitation to continue this conversation privately will be enough. Check out how a restaurant owner handled a bad review in the example below.
You did all the right things—you responded instantly, apologized, and explained the situation. What’s next?
Dusting it off as an unfortunate exception might seem like a tempting alternative, but it’s not going to be helpful. Approach the negative reviews as an opportunity to improve.
Draw up a document of the bad reviews to see if there are any complaints that keep repeating. For instance, if it’s just one customer complaining that your product’s too pricey, they may just be on a tight budget. But if you notice a pattern of shoppers saying the price doesn’t deliver the value, it might be time to revisit your pricing.
We at Printful do exactly that—we collect our negative reviews and contact the departments responsible to let them know that there’s something they should pay attention to. This way, customer feedback is a tool to improve the quality of our products and services.
For example, customers left comments that it was difficult to match the design of our All-Over Print Backpacks’ outside pocket with the rest of the backpack’s design. We took that into consideration and created a minimalist version of the backpack without the outside pocket. Because we had also received feedback about the size of the backpack and the durability of the straps, we made the new backpack more spacious and with sturdier straps.
Think about what you need to do to keep an issue from happening again. Perhaps choose a different garment model that would be a better fit for your printed design? Keep more products at stock so you don’t run out of items when a customer orders something? Whatever it is, make sure valuable information from that one bad review doesn’t get lost and you learn from it.
Remember my satchel story? I bought it, and, a month later, the straps fell right off. I left a review, but the store owner never got back to me. To a certain extent, I sympathize with them—after all, nobody enjoys negative feedback. But, negative feedback is to shop owners what spinach and broccoli is to kids. Not pleasant, but definitely beneficial in the long run.
Marta is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful with a background in Social Anthropology. She's passionate about marketing, UX research, and the Oxford comma.
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