Customer criticism is part and parcel of the digital age; even the most experienced and successful retailers can now easily fall by the wayside, especially following unforeseen circumstances such as unexpected Christmas sales volumes (reaching double the analyst forecast), and providers such as Yodel having to shut down services entirely.

Of course, in these unfortunate instances businesses are vulnerable to lost future sales and negative reviews, with consumers losing faith in their services. So there is now nowhere to hide for those who fail to provide a 360-degree service and meet shopper demand.

With access to new social networking sites and review platforms it’s now much easier for disgruntled customers to take the online stage to voice their complaints and bad mouth a brand, which could easily result in a tarnished reputation. That’s why making the most of reviews and knowing how to react to them is so important in this digital age. Businesses need to drive trust with social proof.

By acting quickly and professionally with transparent communication, retailers can assist customers with queries and concerns to turn negative feedback into a positive customer experience. Sometimes, it’s not even a scenario like the recent Christmas delays. Let’s take the following as an example: after making a purchase, goods have been sent to the customer well packaged, intact and complete within the specified delivery time, but the customer has still submitted a negative review of their order. It happens.

Advice: remember to respond promptly and professionally. Don’t take it personally. Let’s look at the key steps in responding to negative feedback.

Respond promptly

In order to reinforce to customers how crucial their feedback is, retailers must respond quickly to negative comments. Complaints that are handled actively give customers the incentive to return and shows them that their criticism has been taken seriously. This will encourage a positive attitude towards the brand and customers will be more inclined to come up with their own suggestions for improvement. By responding in this way, problems can be solved within two – three days and issues with usability or delivery in the shop, can easily be resolved if the customer receives a great product.

Admit mistakes

It’s human to make the odd mistake. No customer expects perfection. It’s more important to offer a concrete solution if something has gone wrong. Publicly commenting on negative reviews show customers that businesses are not afraid to address their shortcomings. This usually involves apologising and making a public attempt to rectify the problem. This is highlighted in the study: ‘An apology says more than any voucher ever could,’ which shows that 44 per cent of eBay customers who submitted a poor review were moved to change their review after receiving a personal apology.

It is surprising how quickly criticism can be diffused if complaints are acknowledged and respected.

Accept constructive criticism

Constructive criticism from customers is the most important tool there is for retailers to identify their weaknesses and meet customer demands better. The first step is to seize the opportunity to show the customer that this kind of feedback is important.

Of course this doesn’t mean letting insults slide… retailers shouldn’t have to sit back and take it, if it is clear lies are being told. Differentiation must be made between justified constructive criticism and unjustified criticism, spam or cases where inappropriate remarks are made.

Keep collecting!

“One swallow doesn’t make a summer” – the more customer reviews retailers collect, the more likely it is that customers will trust in the brand and its products. Obviously no retailer wants to showcase negative reviews, but if there are a wide range and number of reviews the store will look more authentic. It’s likely that customers will believe in the better reviews, rather than the negative and will recommend and return to the online store.

After all, there are thousands of trustworthy, legitimate businesses out there who give a great service, but if they aren’t showing and proving they are a great place to shop by utilising social proof, then this could mean sales are missed in 2015 and beyond.

Hendrik Lennarz

Hendrik Lennarz


Executive Director Product & Technology at Trusted Shops.