Bad reviews: why people write them, and what they expect

Thursday, September 6, 2018

If you’ve ever ordered your morning coffee and felt uninspired by the request to participate in an online survey or leave a social review regarding your experience, you probably didn’t have a particularly noteworthy experience. If you’re willing to take time out of your day to leave online feedback, it’s usually because you want to warn people about a bad encounter, or to help them make a better buying decision.

In a world of viral marketing and social influence, online reviews have the power to make or break small businesses, but they aren’t the only companies paying attention. Reviews have become such a pivotal part of the buying experience for so many customers, that even tech goliaths like Apple can’t help but play an active role in responding to more critical responses.

So what compels us to leave reviews online, and what are we really hoping to achieve by contributing to the public discussion of a brand, experience, or product? To find out, we surveyed over 1,000 European and North-American consumers about why they leave bad reviews, how good experiences inspire them to give feedback, and the kinds of reactions and rewards they sometimes expect to receive as a result of their critiques.

Think the online review phenomena might sometimes have ulterior motives? Read on to see what we uncovered.

Compelling Experiences

Research indicates overall customer satisfaction with in-store shopping continues to increase, but so do consumers’ expectations about what a good shopping experience looks like in the first place. Consumers want retailers to have better technology, offer more services, and establish better personal connections.

So what happens when the product or purchase doesn’t quite live up to its expectations?

You might consider leaving a negative review.

While the occasional bad mark can be good for helping customers build trust with a brand, too many can be a clear indication that something’s gone seriously wrong.

Overwhelmingly, more than half of both women and men admitted they leave negative comments about businesses simply as a warning to the online community. Other reasons included helping establish proper expectations and to steer buyers away from making a purchase they’ll later regret. Women were most likely (54 percent) to report doing it to help other people make better buying decisions. While some wanted to help companies improve their services and others wanted to share their overall experience, very few seemed to have malicious intent. Less than 1 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men shared negative feedback to get back at a company for a bad policy or product.

The Power of Positivity

A business doesn’t have to have exclusively glowing reviews in order to help compel people to buy its products or frequent its store. Good or bad, a vast majority of customers will leave businesses a review when prompted, and most consumers have the same agenda for their positive comments as their negative reviews: helping other people make better purchases.

Among women, helping other people make better buying decisions was the leading reason for spending time writing a positive review for a product or service, while men were tied for both better buying know-how and simply exercising the opportunity to share their experiences overall.

Both men and women were sometimes compelled by the opportunity to reward companies or employees for good service, and others simply wanted to give back to their online communities.

Still, online review etiquette may not entirely translate across borders. North-American consumers were almost twice as likely to use the power of their positive feedback as an opportunity to thank a specific staff member for their efforts.

Requested Retribution?

Standard customer service code dictates a simple truth most businesses try to live by: The customer is always right. Even if the average employee doesn’t always agree, it’s a common adage that’s been designed to remind brands to keep the customer – and their grievances – in proper perspective. But does that sometimes embolden consumers to expect more than they’re entitled to?

While a majority of people who’ve made the effort to leave a bad review for a company or their services generally don’t expect a response to their comments, roughly 1 in 3 expected either a company comment or private message. In some cases, people may even be expecting compensation in the form of merchandise or credit to help make up for their poor experience. Less common overall, we found it was consumers with the highest annual income who felt the most entitled to free merchandise in response to their negative feedback.

Among North-American consumers, this sentiment was especially strong when asked about expensive purchases. Nearly half admitted they envisioned companies wanting to go the “extra mile” to correct their bad experiences. Only 1 in 4 Europeans had the same perspective in contrast.

Favoured Feedback

With so many people expecting to receive personalised responses to their negative reviews, it’s fair to wonder how they want those conversations to be handled. There are plenty of examples for business owners on the best ways to address public criticism, and most experts recommend refraining from defensive comments and focusing on finding a way to fix the customer’s concerns.

In general, that’s exactly the kind of response most consumers are looking for. A vast majority – 88 percent – of people voted for companies to fix the issue at hand and then contact them regarding the solution. Slightly fewer (84 percent) expected an immediate response with the offer to refund or replace the product in question.

Still, for some consumers, a simple reply would suffice as a response to their negative feedback. Nearly 3 in 4 would be happy with a private message or email, and 61 percent expected a company to publicly comment on their review.

Compensation That Counts

Depending on how bad an interaction is or how poorly a product performs, in some cases, a reply from the company regarding a negative online review simply isn’t sufficient to resolve the issue. Occasionally, consumers expect to be compensated monetarily to help make up for the perceived offense.

Overall, 85 percent of people believed a replacement of the product or service would be in order following a negative review, and 80 percent would prefer being given monetary compensation for their time and inconvenience. While others wanted a reimbursement for their purchases or a gift card to help make up for the experience, nearly 2 in 3 wanted companies to go even further by instituting policy changes storewide to help resolve their concerns.

Regardless of the extent of their requests, from replacement on faulty products to discounts on future purchases, we found North-American consumers were more inclined to expect these kinds of rewards for their negative reviews than European shoppers.

Long-Term Impact

Related stories

Learn From Your Customers

Consumer Behavior and Expectations: The 2017 Holiday Shopping Report

Announcing Trustpilot’s first research report, the Consumer Behavior and Expectations: The 2017 Holiday Shopping Report. This report analyzes over 1 million global reviews and 13,000 consumer responses to help retailers understand and exceed consumer expectations this upcoming holiday season (November and December). By looking at past consumer activity from the 2015 and 2016 holiday season, we’re able to explore how consumers feel during this active shopping season and help retailers react and adapt to this behavior.