The power of a good (or bad) review

We’ve always been interested in what our customers think of our clothing. At various times over the past three years, we’ve used a variety of methods to try and get feedback. When a customer wanted to return or exchange goods, we’d ask them to tell us why. When they called in to place an order, we’d ask them about styles they liked and what they thought we might be missing. When we sent emails to our customers announcing new styles or special sales, we’d ask them to send us their feedback on past purchases.

All of this was great, and we gained some extremely valuable insights into things women liked and didn’t like in our clothing. And, when appropriate, we acted on that information. But, as great as it was, the feedback was essentially one way. Someone would share their thoughts with us but we had no way of letting other customers see them.

We wanted a way for customers to review items they’d purchased from us and have that review show up right on the product pages. After some searching, we found They provide technology that can be “bolted on” to a website that allows prior customers to leave detailed feedback about purchased products.

You can see what the reviews look like on any of our product pages. Right under the shopping bag button on each page is a small box showing how many reviews have been written and the average number of stars received. (For example, our Rio foldover waistband pant has received a number of reviews.

Before we launched the reviews, we were nervous about what might happen. What would the reviews look like? How would they affect sales? Would negative reviews cost us sales? Would people think we were only posting the good and not the bad?

We decided to take the risk. We figured that if there were things about our clothing that people didn’t like, we wanted to hear about it and we wanted potential new customers to hear about it as well. We also decided to post the unvarnished results. Unless a review was an out and out fabrication, we would post it for others to see.

So, a few months ago, we turned on the reviews and started emailing past customers with easy to use links to review the styles they had purchased from us. (Today, we automatically email customers asking them to write a review a few weeks after they place their orders.) The feedback we got was unbelievable good (even when it was bad) for the reasons I’ll discuss below.

First, the majority of the reviews were fantastic. “Best of Show”, “I’m Going to Purchase more of These!” and “Perfect Pants! Love Them!” are some of the titles of reviews customers wrote. For people unfamiliar with our brand, those testimonials help them overcome their anxiety about purchasing. After all, who doesn’t want “Perfect Pants!” ?

But, it’s not just the good reviews that help. We’ve come to believe that the negative reviews help as well. The first thing that negative reviews do is show potential customers that we’re not hiding anything. We’re not just posting goods things people have said, we’re also posting the bad.

The second thing negative reviews do is steer customers away from styles that might not be what they’re looking for or appropriate for them. If prior customers note that a particular style isn’t very supportive, then women who need more support are going to know to look at a different style. If the reviews suggest that a style is a bit looser than they expected, customers looking for a snugger fit can choose something else.

Third, the reviews can allow us to make changes to the descriptions and photos of the items to give a better representation. If the common complaint is “looser than I expected” then perhaps we should change the product description and try to reshoot the photos to show that.

Finally, the reviews tell us things about the needs of our customers that we didn’t realize. On our pants, one of the most common complaints we see is that our longest inseam still isn’t long enough. We’re learning that for many women, options in tall size workout pants are extremely limited and that they want us to fill the void. Amy and I been talking about offering longer inseams for a while now, but it was always a “someday” because we didn’t think there was enough market to support the effort right now. Our customers are telling us different and as a result, we’ve accelerated our plans for longer inseams. We wouldn’t have done that without systematically collecting product review information.

Many online shopping carts in use now have some built in capability to allow customers to leave reviews. In addition, there are some third party companies that will provide the capability for you. We use and have found them to have excellent technology, good support, and an easy to use interface for customers.

Even if you don’t sell on the web, its important to find ways to get unvarnished feedback from customers. If nothing else, develop a set of questions to work into conversations with customers. “What did you like?”, “what didn’t you like?”, “what do you think we’re missing?” are all good things to know. Given half a chance, your customers will help you make smart decisions about your products. Smarter decisions than you could make on your own.

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