Screenshot of Tripadvisor website
Screenshot of Tripadvisor website

How negative online reviews boost sales

By Ellie Zolfagharifard Time of article published May 6, 2014

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London - In the world of online shopping, customer reviews can make or break a sale – but not in the way you might expect.

A new US study suggests that negative reviews written politely could help sell a product.

In a series of five experiments, scientists looked at how including a marker of politeness in a negative online review affected the image of both the reviewer and the product being sold.

Markers of politeness could include phrases like “I’ll be honest” and “I don’t want to be mean, but…”

In one experiment, participants were asked to read a page-long description of a luxury watch.

Two versions of the product description were used, one of which added the polite customer complaint: “I don’t want to be mean, but the band pinches a bit.”

Results revealed that people were willing to pay $41 (R430) more for the watch if they read the description that included the marker of politeness.

“Most of the research on consumer reviews has been on the content and volume of the message,” wrote the study’s authors. “Our research looks at how the politeness with which a particular message is communicated affects consumer opinions.”

The study was undertaken by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago.

As part of the study, the researchers also asked participants to complete a survey evaluating the “personality” of the brand.

Results showed that the polite review caused the brand to be seen as more “honest, cheerful, down-to-earth and wholesome” than the same review without the polite customer complaint.

“Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products – even when those reviews include negative opinions,” the study authors said.

But many online reviews do not reflect real experiences with the product. A separate survey earlier this year found that a fifth of Americans have left online reviews for items they’ve never bought or even used.

The survey of 1 193 American online shoppers by YouGov found that this figure is even higher (32 percent) among parents with children under 18 and the most popular reason why online shoppers questioned did this was simply because “they felt like it”.

More than 22 percent admitted they left a negative review because they didn’t like the idea of the product, while 19 percent said the product received a bad review because they didn’t like the company who made it. – Daily Mail



A recent study of 1 193 American online shoppers by YouGov has found that sites such as Amazon, TripAdvisor and Yelp are now the go-to destinations for customers who want to cut through advertising waffle and discover what products and services are really like.

Nearly half of respondents in the survey said that the most popular site for online reviews was Amazon. This was followed by Google and Yahoo on 14 percent and 13 percent respectively.

Yelp came fourth with 10 percent and TripAdvisor was fifth with eight percent. Movie site Rotten Tomatoes received two percent, while Air BnB and Seamless both featured in one percent of the reviews.

“Other websites” were quoted as the final eight percent.

According to the YouGov research, 39 percent of people have never left an online review.

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