What to do about negative product reviews

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What to do about negative product reviews

Nov 02, 2022

Our fifth minisode of the sixth season of “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available today for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere. In this minisode, Jon talks about what to do about negative product reviews and how to deal with abusive comments.


A transcript of the episode follows:

This is the fifth minisode of the sixth season of the Creative Influencer podcast. Today we are going talk about what to do about negative product reviews.

If you sell merch online, they’re inevitable. In fact, if you sell anything online, it’s only a matter of time before someone will be leaving you a negative review. Consider it a right of passage.

The first step is to pat yourself on your back! I know what you must be thinking—this isn’t very helpful but hear me out: legitimate negative reviews can actually be a good thing. They demonstrate the authenticity of your product reviews as a whole. Now, all of those great reviews that you do have, have all the more weight.

The real value in negative reviews from a customer service standpoint is it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that your brand takes product feedback seriously. You can do this by replying to the post, then taking the extra step of reaching out to the customer directly to see if it is something that you can make right. Consider going out of your way to make the customer happy with a return or exchange. By doing this, you may even encourage the customer to update and revise their review to reflect this positive interaction.

In certain circumstances, you may be tempted to cut off all comments, figuring that it’s better to just stop the hate! Do not do this. When doing brand deals, you need to be able to show engagement across all of your posts (not just the sponsored ones). So cutting off comments is a non-starter if you are an influencer who works with brands.

And one other strategy to incorporate from time to time and as appropriate is humor. For example, one restaurant has gone so far as to mock their bad reviews with lines such as “Have the best Reuben that some guy on Yelp hated.”

All this is good and well for legit reviews – but what about reviews that cross the line and are abusive? And just as inevitably, what about fake reviews or spam?

There are a few steps that you can take by yourself and some with the help of a lawyer.

First, before reporting and trying to get fake reviews taken down (which we’ll get to in a moment), it’s best practice to respond to them politely in the same way that you would respond to any negative review. The response is for potential customers to see that you are proactive and available to support your customers, even when they hide behind a suspicious screenname.

In responding to reviews, it is important to be level-headed, polite and to the point. For example, you could respond to a review from a customer that you have no record of by saying: “Hello (fake customer name), we’ve searched our files and do not have a record of an order from you. We also talked to our sales and customer support teams and asked them about the situation you described, and they have no record of any contact with you. That said, we want all of our customers to be happy and satisfied. Please email us so we can work with you to find a solution.”

When it comes to abuse, the first step, depending on the platform, is reporting the abuse or flagging the comment directly to the site. On large marketplaces where you may sell, such as Amazon or Etsy, they have robust terms of service that help prevent abuse and support options to remove abusive comments.

And let me pause here just to emphasize that a platform’s “Terms of Use” or “Terms of Service” are your friends. When it comes to stopping any sort of abuse, fake reviews or other violations of the website terms of service, the platform is more likely to help if the negative review is in direct violation of its terms. Contact the website directly through the methods given in their terms of use.

If there isn’t a method of contact or support online, the second step is to send formal written request to the website to have the abusive review removed. Often, this is where a lawyer would write a demand letter on your behalf. A demand letter would outline the facts, list the steps that you had taken up to that point, and ask for the website to take down the review.

When the problem is severe, you have only a few potential legal remedies, but they are limited by the fact that all of this is online activity and much of it is hidden or out of your ability to manage.

The first legal remedy is a restraining order against the poster. This is only going to be available to you as an option if you have an identifiable source for abusive reviews that persist or continue, despite your self-help efforts such as reporting to websites and trying to remove individual comments. This is going to be rare, but there are those times where someone who wants to harass you will do it in a public way. A restraining order allows you, in turn to go to the website themselves and to ask them to prevent the person from being able to interact with you, or otherwise ban them from further abuse. And since the order is tied to a specific person, if they create multiple accounts, this helps you counteract those as well and closes that potential loophole (which is the benefit of going after an actual person, instead of going after an individual account). This is a pretty involved legal process and is only really an option in cases of extreme harassment.

The second legal remedy, again if there is an identifiable source of comments that are false and personally attacking you, is filing a lawsuit for defamation. This only applies when the review contains blatant factual inaccuracies that harm your business. Realistically, this is a rare occurrence, and rarer still is a case of defamation that results in real damages to the level that it is economical for you to pursue a lawsuit. So, let’s consider a similarly rare and out-there example. Imagine you are a makeup youtuber and you sell a line of eyeliner. Let’s say another makeup influencer, with a very dedicated following which includes some of your channel’s followers and your customer base, that other influencer, in an act of competitive rage, leaves a review saying that your product caused them to get sick and for their eyelashes to fall out! Now, because of their loyal following, this false review caused all of the followers to repost the negative review, to boycott your product and you to lose all of your orders. It’s in a case like this when you might start to think pursuing a defamation lawsuit.

But it’s also worth noting that my example has a person at the other end—the disgruntled competitor influencer—that could pay any legal judgment against them. That is the major rub: as I’ve talked about in detail on my Entertainment Law Blog, just because you can sue, doesn’t mean that you should sue. And obtaining a judgment at the end of the entire process of a lawsuit is only the first step in actually cashing a check. So this is all to say: your legal remedies to a negative product review are realistically slim, because even if you did file a lawsuit and win, the person leaving the review is unlikely to have the resources to pay a judgment.

And that brings us full circle and back to customer service, which is the hidden opportunity in responding to and interacting with negative customer reviews.

Look at each negative review or comment as an opportunity to reconnect with that person and potentially turn their opinion around.

The Creative Influencer is a weekly podcast where we discuss all things creative with an emphasis on Influencers. It is hosted by Jon Pfeiffer, an entertainment attorney in Santa Monica, California. Jon interviews influencers, creatives and the professionals who work with them.

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