by: John Caddell

The Economist, in its “Technology Quarterly” section this week, discusses the value of user comments, and makes some interesting points, this one in particular:

Amazon…has allowed customers to post reviews of books and other products for many years. Initially, publishers and authors were worried that allowing negative reviews would hurt sales. Online retailers have generally been reluctant to allow users to leave comments, says John McAteer, Google’s retail industry director, who runs, the internet giant’s comparison-shopping site. But a handful of bad reviews, it seems, are worth having. “No one trusts all positive reviews,” he says. So a small proportion of negative comments—“just enough to acknowledge that the product couldn’t be perfect”—can actually make an item more attractive to prospective buyers.

Why is that? Because 100% positive reviews smells like PR or shilling. It isn’t realistic, except in the minds of marketers. Shoppers know that no product fits every need. Seeing negative reviews, and being able to evaluate and compare oneself to the negative reviewer, is very useful to a shopper, who might think while reading a negative review:

“That person didn’t like the widget, but their complaint was minor to me.”

Or: “They pointed out a shortcoming that really doesn’t matter to me.”

Or: “Uh, oh, that really hit home. I don’t like that. Better stay away from this widget.”

So, it’s not really a paradox. Some negative reviews–not too many, of course–make your product seem more real, and therefore more attractive to a shopper, than a product the flaws of which are hidden behind the shiny veneer of public relations.

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