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Ecommerce: How to Respond to Negative Reviews and (Why They’re Awesome)

March 15, 2021
1 mins read
Ecommerce: How to Respond to Negative Reviews and (Why They’re Awesome)

“The customer is always right,” they say. 93% of customers look for online reviews, they say. Okay, okay. Reviews are important, we get it.

So now that your product got a bad review, what do you do? Should you:

a) Pack up your things. You’re doomed. The business is going down the drain.

b) Smile, and take the opportunity to improve the trustworthiness of your brand

Obviously, the answer isn’t A.

The truth is that getting a perfect score--or all five-star reviews--is not the best or the only way to ecommerce success. In fact, if you want more views, more sales, more loyalty, and more fans, then you should want some negative reviews.

Why? Because sunshine and rainbows aren’t nearly as interesting as finger-wagging, tea-spilling drama.

Too Much of a Good Thing - The Problem with Positive Reviews

We’re not here to tell you social proof doesn’t matter. Or that terrible customer service is acceptable--it definitely isn’t.

But the best way to show the true quality of your customer service is with bad reviews.

If you don’t believe me yet, let’s use an example.

Let’s say you search for a VITALS sweatshirt. You find our product page, love the design, and scroll to the reviews to make sure this is worth your money.

How to Respond to Negative Ecommerce Reviews_2

You find 5,000 five-star reviews with comments like, “life-changing,” “incredible,” “a light shining straight down from Heaven,” or “every time I wear this hoodie, I win the lottery.”

There are no negative reviews--not even one less-than-perfect four-star review.

Do you, as the consumer, think, “I’ve finally found the perfect product!”

No, you don’t. Instead, you’ll probably scoff and think, “Wow, how fake is this.”

And since 54% of consumers won’t buy a product if they think it has fake reviews, you’re not going to buy from us. Now now, and not in the future.

Customers would rather buy from a store with three or four stars than a store with fake reviews. Your perfect reviews might actually be taking away from your credibility.

So should you stop trying to offer an incredible experience for your customers? Absolutely not--you should still aim to please every customer.

But if you want financial success and you plan on selling more than a few products, expect bad reviews.

But don’t get down about it--get excited. Bad reviews don’t mean bad business.

The Power of a Little Negativity

Let’s go back to our first scenario. You’re looking at this hoodie, and wondering what other customers thought. So you scroll down to the reviews.

There are a mix of reviews. The majority of reviews are five stars, but there’s also a handful of one and two-star reviews.

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Do you believe these reviews are honest? Well, 68% of customers do.

In fact, a lot of consumers make a point to look at three and four-star reviews to get a realistic or more laid-back perspective on the product.

So even if you never respond to a single product review (which we do not recommend)--you can be confident that even the bad and mediocre reviews can be working to your benefit.

Why Does Responding to Reviews Even Matter?

If bad reviews are good, and too many good reviews are bad--why even bother?

You have plenty of other things to do. Why shouldn’t you just set it and forget it?

Well, you can. If you only want to sell a little bit of product and don’t want to increase your sales, then go ahead--leave it there. Stop reading this article. Don’t pay attention to reviews, and don’t worry about responding to them.

But if you want to use customer reviews to build an audience, become trustworthy, noteworthy, and gain a loyal following--then let’s talk about how to respond to negative reviews strategically.

Bad reviews aren’t only good because they are more believable. They are good because they allow you to connect with your customers in a very specific and personal way.

Bad reviews are one of the only opportunities you have to win back frustrated customers.

Can You Respond to Negative Reviews to Get More Sales?

Let’s say you have a customer named Ron who orders your sweatshirt. His payment goes through easily and his order arrives on time, but the design on the hoodie starts peeling the first time he washes it.

This customer is going to do one of three things:

  • Get angry about the crappy product, never do anything, and never order from you again
  • Attempt to return the product or contact customer support
  • Get angry and write a negative review

If they get angry about this defective item but never contact you, then you’ve just permanently lost a customer. Plus who knows how many people they rant to about your crappy sweatshirt--even if it was one defective item out of thousands.

This is actually the worst-case scenario.

If they contact customer support and attempt to return your product, you have the ability to win back their trust. You can thank them for contacting you and replacing their item without a problem--bam. The customer is extra happy with the personal and premier customer service.

However, you’ve lost money on the return and only gained one happy and loyal customer. You have no way to prevent this from happening in the future or show other, potential customers how great you are.

If they get angry and write a negative review, they’ve made the issue public. Now, there is an unlimited number of people who are watching the way you respond and deciding whether or not to give you their money. You have an opportunity to not only win back one customer’s trust but to earn the trust of thousands.

If you respond to negative reviews immediately and offer a solution, future customers see that you care about every customer’s experience. Dealing with a problem well can be more powerful than never having a problem.

Bad reviews allow you to impact EVERY future and potential customer who lands on your product page.

And since the people who are reading your reviews are most likely undecided shoppers, this is the most valuable way to turn viewers into buyers.

How to Strategically Respond to Negative Reviews

There’s no individual script that’s going to perfect all your responses to bad reviews. Frustrated customers have already dealt with an automated system and had a bad experience--so this is the time to be personal.

You can create a template or guideline for review responses, but make sure that each one is customized.

Respond to negative reviews ASAP

If you are going to respond to an upset customer, you need to do it right away when the issue is still hot. Try to respond to reviews within 48 hours.

That means that you need to be tracking reviews without manually having to refresh your product page a thousand times a day. Use VITALS to receive alerts when reviews are submitted.

How to Respond to Negative Ecommerce Reviews_4

Try VITALS free for 30 days.

Use the Customer’s Name

You want to show that a real person is responding to their frustration who actually cares about their individual problem. Using their name is an immediate and automatic way to communicate directly to the reviewer, instead of using an automated response like, “Thanks for the feedback.” Vomit.

Look Into the Problem

If you don’t plan on taking two minutes to check the validity of a customer’s review, then you might as well not respond at all.

Find their order and see what the problem was. You might find a simple solution or a clear reason for the issue. Even if you don’t see the problem or have a way to fix it, you can respond to negative reviews with a legitimate understanding of the customer’s experience.

Acknowledge the Problem and the Frustration

Now that you have a clear understanding of the customer’s experience, express that you see where there was a problem. By acknowledging their problem, you are validating their frustration and owning the mistake. This is the only respectable way to deal with unhappy customers--whether they are overreacting or not is completely irrelevant.

Remember that your responses to all reviews--good, bad, and mediocre--will be seen and judged by your future customers.

Provide a Solution

In some cases, it might be easy to send a replacement for a defective product or fix a technical bug. But even when there is no obvious fix, you can still find a solution to offer.

This might be a specific email list for future discounts or a free product. You can even reach out to them personally to determine the best way for you to help.

However, tread carefully when offering money or discounts--you don’t want this to feel like bribing.

How to Screw Up Responding to Negative Reviews

Take Your Sweet Time

Responding to a review will only be beneficial for you if you do it in a reasonable amount of time. If you wait more than a week, it’s an afterthought. It’s like reopening a wound.

This is a great way to show customers that your company isn’t paying attention or doesn’t really care that their customers are unhappy. If too much time passes, it will be better for you not to respond at all.

Prove Them Wrong

It doesn’t matter if the review is 100% fake or if the review is clearly overreacting. It doesn’t matter if you are convinced this is a personal attack and you want to strike back.

If you comment in anger or deny what the customer is saying, you will damage the trustworthiness of your brand. Even if you delete your response later, you’ll never know how many people see your response or if screenshots were taken--until it’s too late.

Copy and Paste the Same Responses

What’s the point of responding to customers if you say the same thing every time? By using a generic response to a bad customer review, you risk adding more fuel to the fire.

Bribe Them to Change Their Review

Seems obvious, right? You’d be surprised.

You can still offer future discounts or a free product, but you can’t tie it too closely with asking for them to change their review. This can backfire all too easily.

How to respond to a negative review you suspect is fake

When (not if) you receive a review that is completely fake or highly exaggerated, you’re going to get mad. You’ll probably immediately want to want to call the reviewer out and prove that’s it’s fake. However, you still need to do the same things you do with a legitimate negative review.

Take a minute to look into it. Respond quickly. Acknowledge the frustration, and offer a solution.

Even if you’re SURE this is a troll, don’t show it. Plead ignorance and stay polite--but express your confusion.


“Hi [name], we’re so sorry that you had this experience--it’s not the kind of experience we want for our customers. You said you ordered the blue coffee mug last month, but we actually discontinued that product six months ago. Did you mean for this review to go to someone else? Send us a message so we can figure out how to fix this problem.”

If you respond to negative reviews by actually looking into the issue, this will stand out to potential customers. Even the most negative review won’t affect their buying decision if you respond calmly and ask questions about the validity of the order.

If you want to weed out fake reviews, use the “Verified Purchase” setting in VITALS. If you enable it, it will automatically match reviewers with their purchase and show this on their review. Customers will see when bad reviews are not verified. Try it now, free for 30 days.

When Good is Bad and Bad is Good

You can have a trustworthy brand, even with bad reviews.

You can still maximize the impact of social proof, even with negative reviews.

If you go back to the basics, social proof is the concept that people will do what they see other people doing. It does NOT mean that people will only buy from stores that don’t have any negative reviews.

So if people see other customers buying your product, they’ll buy your product. If people see other customers leaving detailed reviews, they’ll leave detailed reviews.

Stop worrying about whether customers are going to leave a bad review, and start focusing on the way you respond to them.

And install VITALS so you can never miss the chance to respond to a negative review. Start for free.