A university study finds that while the general assumption is that an abundance of helpful reviews — whether positive or negative — is ultimately more influential in driving purchases, anger in negative reviews is not helpful.
Across six laboratory experiments, researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of South Florida found that angry reviews are typically discounted by consumers as less helpful than non-angry reviews, but they counterintuitively influence consumers’ attitudes and choices to a greater extent.
“Platforms usually use helpfulness-based sorting to order reviews, presumably because of the assumption that ‘helpful’ reviews are more persuasive in shaping customer decisions,” said Han Zhang, a professor at Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. “However, we provide an emotion-based exception to this assumption and suggest that sorting based solely on helpfulness votes may be less effective than intended.”
The findings highlight the importance of monitoring reviews on a regular basis and acting as quickly as possible to address angry reviews.
For e-commerce platforms, providing instructions or advice, such as encouraging reviewers to take their time and provide real data to back up their claims, was suggested to reduce the number of angry reviews.
Prof. Zhang explained, “The notion that ‘too much anger’ can reduce the perceived value of a review is reflected in guidelines of some review platforms: e.g., guidelines at TripAdvisor (2019) explicitly discourage reviewers from ‘ranting.’ Given that participants in our studies consistently perceived angry reviews as ‘irrational’ and ‘unhelpful,’ this advice appears sound.”
Previous research has shown that the quantity of reviews can be more important in driving conversion than the quality because volume makes the business appear more trustworthy and authoritative. Recency was also found to be a critical review factor. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey from 2020 found 73 percent of respondents indicating reviews must be from the last month to influence their choice to use a local business.
Negative reviews, according to university research that appeared last year in the Journal of Marketing, can also be helpful. When perceived as unfair, negative reviews can activate feelings of empathy toward firms that have been wronged, and can be leveraged to drive empathy from consumers reading reviews.
- Study Finds Use of Anger in Online Reviews Simultaneously Unhelpful but Influential in Purchase Decisions – Georgia Tech
- When Perusing Online Reviews, Shoppers Value Quantity Over Quality – The University of Arizona
- Press Release from the Journal of Marketing: Make the Best of Bad Reviews by Leveraging Consumer Empathy – American Marketing Association
- Local Consumer Review Survey 2020 – BrightLocal
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What should retailers and consumer brands do about angry or negative online reviews? What factors are most helpful in online reviews when it comes to influencing purchasing decisions?
President, Rubinson Partners, Inc.
I often see businesses respond to negative reviews by saying that the satisfaction of their customers is of the utmost importance and that they will take the feedback seriously. Some even provide a mechanism for the reviewer to reach out directly to the brand. I’d say that is the best way to respond.
President, founder and CEO Interactive Edge
Some people are never happy no matter what the retailer, store, restaurant or other service business does. The key is to always make sure that the negative reviews are first acknowledged and responded to in a way that shows that the firm does indeed have empathy, understands the concern and pushes back where and when appropriate. The customer is not always right, and those consumers that are savvy enough to understand that will most likely be fair in their assessment of the business.
Senior Partner, Industry Consulting, Retail, CPG and Hospitality, Teradata
Whether positive or negative, companies must respond immediately to reviews. This urgency fosters an open and honest dialogue that consumers can have with the brand/company. In fact, an immediate and empathetic response from the brand can turn a negative into a positive. No response implies apathy and – whether right or wrong – the online audience perception becomes reality and this can create a downward spiral that can be tough to overcome.
Director, Main Street Markets
Leave them and let the retailer respond to them. There is no reason a retailer should hide any review – good or bad.
Principal, Retail Technology Group
To be most influential, reviews need to be perceived as rational and calm. Anger is easily perceived and is probably considered an oddball negative experience.
Managing Director, GlobalData
The review reflects the feelings of the customer and, in some ways, the retailer can’t – and should not – do anything to influence that other than following up as appropriate.
One idea is to allow people to choose emoticons as well as star ratings – asking “how did the product/experience make you feel” – and then have a selection of icons to pick from. Other consumers could then search by those icons.
However for me the biggest issue isn’t around anger or mood state. It is in what the review rating actually refers to. Many people will give a product a bad review because of issues with delivery, service, price, etc. That is frustrating when you want to understand what people think of the product itself rather than the service surrounding it.
Retail Industry Strategy, Esri
Be transparent and honest. Anything else creates distrust and amplifies customers’ negative perception of the company. Responding in a genuine and respectful way can go a long way to defusing problems, even with angry customers.
Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting
There are people who live to flame other people and there isn’t much you can do about it. When my second book was published one “reviewer” on Amazon went on and on – in heated language – about how terrible it was that the book had no Index. If the reviewer had been correct I would have agreed. The problem was that the book was fully indexed. In a response I noted that the reviewer was either illiterate or confusing my book with another unindexed tome. Today, I would have let it go and let other reviews balance it out. No point in giving a troll, especially an angry one, more oxygen.
Founding Partner, Merchandising Metrics
Learn. Simple one word answer = Learn. What’s the root cause? Product? People? Process? And then act, respond. Reviews, both good and bad, are next level data. They aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. They can immediately provide insight into what is pleasing or frustrating the customer. Understanding the “why?” is the key to course corrections.
Director of Retail Marketing, enVista
The best way to approach an angry review is to acknowledge it and offer a means of follow-up to try and mitigate similar problems in the future.
Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC
It is important to respond to reviews, both positive and negative. A simple/short acknowledgement of a positive review is fine. For negative reviews there are two things to consider. Speed and acknowledgement. Respond quickly and acknowledge the problem with an apology and empathetic statement. Then try and move the conversation to a direct message or other channel. With negative reviews, the world is able to see how the company/brand handles it. As my buddy Jay Baer says in his amazing book, “Hug Your Haters,” a negative review is like a spectator sport. Everyone watching can see how well (or not) the review is handled. When a customer sees how the complaint is managed, it can give them the confidence to see past the review.
Consultant, Strategist, Tech Innovator, UX Evangelist
Canned responses by brands such as “We’re sorry that you were disappointed… we will share your comments…” are just as worthless as poorly-focused/angry reviews. The best solution is to either individually respond to each review, individually respond to each review with an X star rating or lower, or not respond at all. Going through the motions to appear attentive fools no one, exacerbates the original commenter’s feelings, and potentially turns off other customers. Essentially, the same kind of policy as is applied to successful social media engagements.
The worst I’ve seen is where the brand replies in an argumentative fashion, as if someone’s ego is at stake, which really turns off swaths of people.
Director of Marketing, Deck Commerce OMS
First, brands should read reviews to filter any “truth” in the feedback, and respond to the consumer. Then it is up to the brand to take action on the feedback (if needed) and for potential consumers to validate (or invalidate) the review. For example, I have read many reviews rating a product a low-star value because it arrived late. This is a fairly inaccurate review of the product itself, and more of a reflection of shipping and overall experience. Unfortunately for retailers, the lines between customer experience and product reviews are easily blurred.
Retail Thought Leader
Negative reviews have proven to be solid attractors and not having a few of them will make consumers skeptical of the product or service. Even the angry ones serve a purpose – deterrence of users who are easily influenced and quick to anger about your product or service from becoming a customer – which will focus your time and business on customers who are more even-keeled. The cost to manage an angry customer can exceed product or service margins very quickly. From past experience working with companies like Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews, we used negative reviews as an effective form of feedback – after confirming their legitimacy. Responding to customers with a focus on their problem only served to strengthen their willingness to continue buying from us. Making what we would do about the customer’s issue public and transparent enhanced our market image and quality of service perception. Online reviews are one of the few places e-commerce can connect directly with the customer.
Loyalty Strategist, Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute
As far as what factors are the most helpful, the poll has done a good job outlining the various areas of consideration: Legitimacy, Quantity, Recency, Sentiment, Rating.
Quantity can help aid Legitimacy. I usually start there – if a product has less than 30-50 reviews and I do not already have trust established with the brand, I’m out and don’t get to the other factors. Recency becomes more important in service-based industries as staff turnover can greatly alter the customer experience. Detail and sentiment become more important at higher cost/consideration purchases. And Rating of course is king.
Principal, KIZER & BENDER Speaking
Watch online reviews every day. Keep in mind that bad reviews are emotional. Leaving them unanswered tells customers you don’t care. We know that bad reviews may at times be embellished, and not entirely truthful. Doesn’t matter. Remember a lie unchallenged becomes a truth. It’s all about the ROI. And we’re not talking Return on investment here; we’re talking about the “Return on Ignoring your customers.” That is dangerous. Constantly (daily if necessary) reply to horrid reviews, true or false. Send thank you notes to positive reviews. And never forget this: the internet will never call you for your side of the story!
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University
Negative reviews with and without anger, need a response from retailers. Even if you cannot resolve the nature of the review, responding to a disgruntled customer has positive benefits. Plus, such responses allow retailers to develop a dialog with the customer to better understand the underlying factors that contributed to the angry review.
Chief Marketing Officer, PerimeterX
Retailers should do two simple things: First, ensure that the review came from a real person and not a bot. Unfortunately, there are far too many spambots out there which post negative reviews and thinly veiled advertisements for other products to lure unsuspecting consumers to other sites — from which the spammer might gain a referral fee. Many bot management tools on the market easily determine human or bot to help with this decision. Second, acknowledge the review. Sincerely apologizing and seeking to understand and address the issue goes a long way. It’s easy for a disgruntled consumer to say things behind the relative anonymity of their device that they wouldn’t say in person. Putting a human face to the brand goes a long way to diffusing the issue. Then address the issue — perhaps offline — but document the resolution online so others see that you cared enough to close the loop. And ideally, ask the reviewer to acknowledge the resolution.
Principal, KIZER & BENDER Speaking
Every review, good or bad, needs a quick response. I just read a study that said a big percentage of consumers look for negative reviews before making a purchase. They want to read about the things others have encountered, so if you get a bad review leave it there. And respond promptly. It’s important to let customers know that you care about their experience and want to do better.
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