Consumers Get Critical

Discussion
Aug 05, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Some consumers, considering the purchase of a product, like knowing what others who bought the same item thought of it. For these shoppers, Amazon and a host of other retailers offer customer reviews.

While review functions are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, they are also problematic for retailers. If consumers pan a product stocked by a retailer, how can the business sell it?

Some retailers, such as Newegg.com, have decided to withhold posting comments that could negatively impact sales, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

According to the paper, a U.S. Army engineer, Peter Brig, had problems with computer storage discs he bought from Newegg.com. In response, he wrote two product reviews on the disks for the retailer’s Web site only to find that Newegg.com would not post them.

“I just wanted to tell other people about the incompatibility” he said. “But they didn’t allow me to communicate that to anyone.”

Newegg.com did follow up with Mr. Brig and offered him an apology and a refund but never posted his comments for others to see. As a result, he has developed a different view of Newegg.com’s online product reviews, saying he doesn’t “know if I truly trust their review process.”

Carrie Johnson, an e-commerce analyst with Forrester Research, said 26 percent of online retailers use product reviews because it is seen as a valuable service to shoppers. Some hold back for fear that posting negative comments may hurt sales.

Others try to balance the equation by editing and deciding not to publish some reviews. “That is one of the reasons why using reviews are so tricky,” she said. “Customers will feel duped when their reviews don’t get posted, and feel that there is censorship going on.”

Moderator’s Comment: Are customer reviews posted on a retailer’s Web site good for business or bad? How should retailers balance between the need to
sell product and the opinions of products expressed by its shoppers?

– George Anderson – Moderator

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11 Comments on "Consumers Get Critical"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 6 months ago
Having used the services of both Download.com and Tucows to sell and distribute software, I became very sensitive to the reviews of downloaders. Then I realized two things: 1.) Most reviews are negative, because those users are somehow more motivated to communicate, and 2.) Software publishers can balance and significantly overcome negative reviews on these sites by submitting positive reviews themselves. Once upon a time, I would have described on-site customer reviews as a two-edged sword that cuts both ways — positively and negatively. Today, with the wisdom of hindsight, I believe this sword cuts only one way — negatively. A visit to nearly any chat room reveals the mentality, subjectivity, ignorance, and decidedly negative bent of most of those who choose those forums to “express” themselves. Human nature says that satisfied customers are no longer interested in your company or your website — they just want to enjoy their purchase and get on with their lives. It’s the unhappy ones who love to rant. I’ve found that it’s better to seek informed reviews from… Read more »
Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
15 years 6 months ago

Customer reviews (and blogs) are only good for brands that have no fear of criticism. This isn’t very common, obviously. Even brands with great reputations could receive unwarranted criticism.

I think that marketers need to realize that the age of information and consumer empowerment will not support false perceptions, and that they simply need to develop better products

I also think that a lot of people are wasting a lot of time wondering whether they should add a customer review section or blog to their site, because there are reviews of their products on Amazon and ePinions already. They trust the 3rd party sources far more than they would ever trust a customer review page on a corporate website.

And again (from previous postings), if a marketer stonewalls customer reviews or blogs, it will not create a positive impression in the long run.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
There are 2 types of “retailer/customer” relationships: a. A retailer who sells to the same customer on a periodic, repeated basis (a supermarket, department store, bookstore, etc.) b. A retailer who sells to the same customer so rarely and with such long intervals (years between each transaction) that there is no relationship valued by many of those retailers (car dealers, funeral parlors, real estate agents). The enlightened retailer wants to have repeat transactions no matter how often they are possible. But the “long interval” retailers are more likely to devalue the concept of repeat transactions, and try to simply maximize the value of any 1 transaction, assuming the 1 transaction is all there will be. So “long interval” retailers are more likely to get rip-off reputations. Enlightened retailers understand the lifetime value of a customer relationship, and try to enhance that trust. They know that any 1 transaction may lose money, but are confident that, over time, trust will create a strong profit potential. Amazon wants lifetime repeat customers. They’ve invested billions in losses to… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 6 months ago

Speaking with some experience, there is a fine line between what should be posted and what should not. The ideal situation is to have a stable of editors who have a fine sense of what’s just negative, and what crosses the line. Consumers value reviews, but they can be a detriment if the process isn’t trusted. There should be a clear editorial policy. An etailer who decides to post reviews is now building its reputation on price, value, convenience, AND its review policy.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Anne, I’d like to agree, but in reality, transparency is an illusion. (There’s a bumper sticker for you.)

There’s an ethical gray area here, for sure…but retailers can easily rationalize rejecting few disgruntled customers in favor of presenting mostly positive reviews on their websites. Consider that the percentage of customers who take the time to write reviews is likely miniscule compared to the entire customer base. And even if the review editor rejects half of that small group, you’ve got a controllable situation. You can send a sympathetic response to the rejected reviewers and possibly even keep them as customers.

By posting customer reviews, online retailers present an image that ties in to the egalitarian position that web surfers have learned to expect from non-commercial, specialty interest bulletin board and blog sites. In reality, there’s no reason why they should expect the retailer to offer an open forum. But in many cases, that will remain the retailer’s well-kept secret.

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
15 years 6 months ago

Retailers that offer customer reviews are doing two things…they are reinforcing consumer behavior to seek out their site and differentiating themselves from those who do not offer this service.

I appreciate being able to read what others like or do not like …or their use of a product that I am considering. Their opinions are definitely taken with a grain of salt. The review may provide a few ideas that I had not thought of and some input that may assist me in making my decision.

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
15 years 6 months ago

It’s hard to imagine a way to control this. A customer whose review is NOT posted at a retailers site could go to thousands of other places and post his or her experience with the product AND the retailer. It might not be as direct as posting at the retailer’s site proper– but it would still have an effect.

I think retailers must monitor comments. There is a “reasonableness filter” that must be applied. A customer who might give a product a bad review because it didn’t clean his dishes properly– but the product was meant to mow his lawn. Still, in the democratic review space, his voice would be small in comparison to others who liked the product.

In short, whether it’s problematic or not for retailers, customers are coming to expect this kind of transparency in their shopping experience.

John Rand
Guest
John Rand
15 years 6 months ago

I am not sure a retailer needs to offer the review capability on standard, comparable merchandise.

But if they offer it, they can’t censor it to a predetermined positive result. That’s a waste of everyone’s time, and, in the long run, does more harm than good. People who want to rant after-the-fact and find they CAN’T will be more ticked off then ever.

Retailers should seriously want to consider the ups and downs of getting unfiltered consumer reaction to both their own label products and to their effectiveness as a retailer, though. Yes, a good deal will be negative. Filtering it out won’t make it positive; it just makes consumer feel more irrelevant and even less committed to return.

The brilliant retailer would publish the negative – and run a side-by-side response on how they work to respond to the concerns.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

There are two comments I would like to make about this. First off, if there are only positive comments it might make potential customers assume that negative ones have been censored and wonder whether or not to buy. Secondly, if there are negative comments, there should be reasons cited; not every potential customer would necessarily find those reasons good enough to deter them as their own requirements and/or taste might be quite different. Anyone looking at reviews and guides has to make an allowance for taste and should use other people’s opinions as guidelines only.

There is also an issue of whether the retailer should contact people submitting negative reviews and try to either pacify them or get the comment toned down a bit if it’s over the top rather than simply refusing to publish. Rick has done this to me on more than one occasion and we have both lived to tell the tale.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I think it’s purely problematic for the retailer. Nothing is without bias and nothing is necessarily without motive. Some may find a way to work this out and balance it, however, it would seem to me that the problems out weigh the benefits, even the venting benefits of the consumer.

I’ve never really felt that consumer opinion information is without bias. In fact, I believe the largest consumer information magazine to be one of the most biased sources of consumer information I have ever seen.

When the market is seemingly absent of reliable product information provided by manufacturers and retailers, looking to the consumer to provide it may be more dangerous than none at all.

And after likely being the cause of Bernice going over the top a time or two from a strong comment now and then, I’ll stop here so I can live to write again.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 6 months ago

Some interesting comments from our panel.

I’ll suggest to you that posting and responding to all comments is another way of engaging, not just the one consumer,
but all that have posted their comments. Think of this product web site as being comparable to ‘word of mouth’ discussion amongst neighbors, bridge groups,
church goers, and even chat room web sites.

The X and Y generations are always commenting to their friends about foods,
tech, music, etc. regarding product value, issues and benefits. There
is no way to avoid the unpleasant responses! But take the
value of each of them and utilize.

In my opinion, whether the product is an everyday type purchase, or once a year, or every five, I, as the manufacturer, would
use the shoppers’ comments as feedback to improve the product, or come up with line extensions.

I sure would go to my competitors’ shopper response web site
and view the comments!! Hmmmmmmmmmmm

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