How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

04.12.2018, 9m

Online customer reviews can inspire many emotions from us. As consumers, we often rely on them to guide our purchase decisions. As business owners, we both fear and praise them as they can influence customers to buy from us or to click that “x” and leave our shop entirely. Providing a guaranteed 5-star experience to every customer is impossible. Eventually, you’re going to have to deal with negative reviews - so keep reading to learn how to handle bad online reviews and manage your online reputation.


Here are the different topics we're going to discuss. Feel free to skip ahead to the sections most relevant to you.


1. How important are online reviews

2. How to avoid negative reviews – without any shady tricks

3. How to respond to negative online reviews

4. Use negative reviews to your advantage

How important are online reviews?

Before we take a look at how to handle negative online reviews, let’s have a quick reminder as to why they are so important. I’ve written another blog about customer reviews, but here’s a quick summary:

Online reviews provide SEO value for your website. Google absolutely loves fresh content. By having a constant flow of new reviews, Google’s web crawlers will consider that when ranking your website for its most important keywords.

Online reviews provide social proof. Surely, your website will point out how great your business’s products are. However, today’s modern shopper is skeptical about marketing efforts. They will turn to online reviews for proof of quality and objective opinions on products and services. As an online retailer, it’s recommended that you host these reviews on your website. Don’t give your shop’s visitors any reason to leave your website, even if it is to check on your reputation.  

This last point comes back to Google. Star ratings give your online shop more visibility - literally. You can show off your star ratings in both organic search results and in Google Ads. Some studies have shown a 35% increase in traffic when stars are displayed in Google’s SERPs.

In the Google ad above, the orange stars get your online shop credibility before its even visited.

Before you continue, check out our free whitepaper, which guides you through the process of displaying your star-ratings across Google:

Trusted Tips: Learn about getting your star-ratings all across Google with our  free whitepaper!

How to avoid negative reviews – without any shady tricks

Negative reviews are every online retailer’s nightmare. Don’t worry, though: there are a few simple and, most importantly, legal tricks to avoid them. Moreover, from a purely statistical point of view, online retailers can rest assured that most customer reviews are actually positive.

Reputable review providers publish all customer reviews connected with a real order that are not illegal nor violate the terms of use. This means that there might be some critiques, too – be they fair or not. However, there is good news: negative reviews are far less frequent than many retailers fear.

According to our data, in 2016, only 2% of users gave shops only one star, whereas 79% awarded them all five stars.

All positive ≠ “all good”

So, most reviews are positive. However, receiving nothing but positive reviews is actually not desirable, either, especially if you’ve already collected a great number of reviews. Having them all be positive gives off the impression that they might be inauthentic. Therefore, this rule applies: too many negative reviews make customers weary; only positive ones do too.

Nevertheless, every online retailer’s objective should continue to be to collect as many positive reviews as possible by avoiding the negative ones. We strongly advise you against using tricks or deceits – sooner or later, they usually end up being unveiled, which can cause much greater damage to a company’s reputation than a few negative reviews ever could. Avoiding negative reviews using legally-sound methods is definitely the way to go. This way, you can enjoy your success with a clear conscience.

smiley face in speech bubble

On top of that, a few negative reviews might actually help your business avoid some things. If an authentic product review points out some of the important negative features of a certain item, your shoppers will get a more realistic description of your product.

If these reviews actually help them realise that a certain product won’t meet their needs, you might be dodging a bullet (or a few). For example, this potential customer will avoid buying a product that doesn’t suit them. Therefore, there is less of a chance that they will leave a negative review for that product. Also, you’ll avoid them returning that product (which will save you money in the long-term).

Tips to avoid negative reviews

Now that we know why not all negative reviews are created equally, here are some tips on how to avoid negative online reviews:

  • Good service: Quite logically, good service is key. There is no cure for habitual complainers, but most customers do appreciate good service and will review your shop accordingly.

  • Perfect timing: Customers are more likely to leave a review if they have already received their order. The perfect moment to send customers a review e-mail is one to two days after delivery.

  • Clarity: Customise the colours, images and texts of your review invites to make sure that your online shop is immediately recognisable. Include the order reference as well as the purchase date to avoid misunderstandings.

  • Information: Customers are often disappointed because the goods delivered don’t match their expectations. Make sure that this doesn’t happen by providing sufficient information on the product page, e.g. product description, images, product reviews and/or your answers to questions about products.

  • Accessibility: If you are able to solve a conflict with a customer by phone or email, they will be far less likely to express their anger in a negative review.

  • Keeping your promises: When it comes to availability and delivery times, customers don’t have such a great sense of humour. Therefore, keep your promises and they’ll have no reason to write a negative review.

  • Being accommodating: In case of conflict, being accommodating is worth more than being stingy. You might well lose a few pounds, but this is better than receiving a negative review you won’t ever get rid of.

  • Authenticity: Make sure the reviews you receive are from actual, verified customers. Use a closed review system to ensure only real customers are leaving you feedback.

As you can see, there are some legal strategies you can follow to prevent customers from leaving negative reviews. Making sure that all customers who have ordered from your online shop are given the chance to leave a review plays a crucial role, too. Open online review platforms tend to attract negative reviews first, whereas satisfied customers must be addressed proactively.

However, if you get a negative review despite all the measures listed above, the rule is: don’t despair! By properly reacting to a negative review, you can turn it into a positive presentation of your shop.

How to respond to negative online reviews

woman screaming through megaphone

Many upset customers head online to vent their frustrations, flocking to sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp to do so. Walmart, the mammoth company spent years simply accepting the criticism of the public. It seemed like the best way to mitigate any possible bad press from all the negative feedback, which might have been worsened by directly addressing them.

However -- Walmart eventually came up with a new strategy. They called this "no free shots". It involved a policy of finding and reviewing any places where they were mentioned on social media. The goal was to engage with the disillusioned and often irate users, instead of sweeping their comments under the rug.

Let me stop you right there, before you go off and start picking fights with anyone who bad-mouths your business. That is certainly not the point of this article. Walmart began taking people's issues on board, discussing the problem, and finding a way to make things right.

How did they do this?

1. Keep calm and take a deep breath

Most people will not turn against your company just because they read a bad comment or two. They will probably write you off if they see you responding to those comments like a jerk. It is far from easy to keep a cool head in the face of a rude, negative, and possibly abusive individual. Your first reaction will be to retaliate in kind. Resist that urge. Take a moment to calm yourself down before you respond.

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2. Be positive

Even if you're responding to overtly negative comments, it is essential to find some positive spin to put on things. Even just being helpful and finding a way to fix an issue can improve everyone's mood. When people head to the Internet to rant and rave, they're not necessarily looking for things to be set right and made perfect. No, they are looking for a genuine interaction from someone who cares about their problem.

Even if you can't help them, it pays to be positive and empathetic. If need be, apologise for the problem even if you don’t necessarily think it’s your fault. Sometimes, apologising for any confusion or simply for the fact that they have to go through this inconvenience is a great way to show empathy.

3. Turn it around

Even the worst comments can become opportunities to make your business look good. By simply handling things in a positive and helpful way, you can show others that you care about your customers. Maybe you could also point out the strong track record you have in providing great goods or services.

Since someone has already engaged with you through their feedback, look at it as a way to frame your own spin on things, without appearing conceited. Don't disregard them or change the subject without actually addressing their concerns, or it will seem like you just want to get rid of them. This can take some care and practice to get right, but it's worthwhile to learn how.

By the way, we’ve created an in-depth look at how to handle negative reviews. Download our free whitepaper below:

Trusted Tips: Learn how to respond to negative reviews with our free whitepaper!

Use negative reviews to your advantage

So, now we know how to avoid negative online reviews  and how to respond to them. We shouldn’t forget the fact that good bad-reviews exist and that they can be used to your advantage.

So what exactly is a “good bad-review”? It is a review that can actually help your business in one way or another. Here are some examples:

Negative reviews to improve your product line

Your shop might have the best prices, quick delivery, and great customer service. However, if a certain product gets criticised again and again, it’s going to reflect poorly on your shop’s quality. Pay attention to your negative reviews. If that one product is poorly reviewed, it very well may be time to get rid of that product from your shop.

Negative reviews to improve customer service

If you receive enough shop reviews that criticise your customer service, it might be time to do some online shop soul-searching. These are the reviews that will make your business suffer. Many shoppers don’t have a problem paying a little more for a product if they know that the shop’s customer service is there to work with them, not against them.

Negative reviews to improve your website

Sometimes, negative feedback reveals things about your online shop that you might not realise. It might be some confusion with your website’s navigation, your checkout, or your delivery options. Paying attention here might improve the site’s performance and your shop’s conversion rate. If you see certain aspects of your business have confused your customers in the past, try creating a FAQ section for your website.

Negative reviews to improve your marketing

Every once in a blue moon, you’ll get a negative review that might make you laugh. Perhaps, the customer is giving you a backhanded compliment or maybe they missed the point of your business altogether. If you can think of a clever way to spin this review in your favour, it might make for a genius advertisement.

For example, Snowbird ski resorts handled this one-star review perfectly: 

Snowbird negative review advertisementHere is the full-spread ad that appeared in magazines. (Check out the text below)

Snowbird negative review advertisement closeup

The text in the Snowbird magazine ad.

This concept could work for a lot of businesses. Is your fitness studio too intense? Is your Indian restaurant too spicy? Sometimes a negative in one person’s eyes can be another person’s best selling point.


Remember, a lot of customers will sift through negative reviews to get a realistic view of a product or a shop’s services. Some problems are unavoidable, but others can be remedied easily. If you’re a company that does things the right way, especially when things go wrong, most potential customers can pick up on that if you respond correctly.

Download free whitepaper to learn how Trusted Shops will help your online shop

Author credits: Alon Eisenberg, Johannes Lemm, Michael Kaltenbrunner