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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  1. Tammy says:

    wow. I love this post. I completely agree with getting feedback bad or good. Thank you Kathleen for having Mike on fashion-incubator, I’ve loved every post so far.

  2. colleen says:

    I agree completely with Mike about customer feedback – it’s invaluable. When I worked at a large direct merchant, the product development team was required to read customer letters. These letters helped identify fabric and fit issues which the team would address. The improved product resulted in lower returns.

    RE: the longer inseams. Marshall Cohen’s recent book, “Why Customer’s Do What They Do”, devotes chapter 6 to the super-sizing of America. He indicates that niche fit markets are an opportunity that large companies either ignore or inadequately address. This supports the feedback you’re getting from the taller customer and should be a good opportunity for your business!

  3. Sherry says:

    Hi, Mike. Thanks for the post.

    When I looked at your site a few weeks ago, I was impressed with the review section. Having the “negative” reviews was really helpful. I tend not to trust companies that only have positive reviews.

    Also, the “negative” reviews weren’t necessarily negative. If something didn’t work for a particular person, she usually gave a detailed reason, and often it helped me to determine if the item would fit my body or suit my needs. In particular there was a style that was beautiful, and would be great for casual wear, but would not work as well for athletic pursuits. It was great to know that, because it gave me the idea to either adapt the item to a different use or try an alternative that will function the way I want.

    In addition to a quality website that is well laid out and looks like a real-honest-to-goodness business, the review feature made me have confidence to buy from you when I am in the market for activewear (which, coincidentally, I do expect to be shortly). When you don’t have the name brand recognition of brands found at major retailers, that’s a plus!

  4. Vesta says:

    When we ran our online retail store, I found that reviews drastically cut down on our return/exchange rate. “Not very supportive for heavy babies” steered away those looking for support, but kept those with tiny babies.

    I agree that the more info you can gather, good or bad, the better your products and company will be. In our wholesale biz, if I can adress the problems of the most squeeky wheels, I can usually make everyone else more comfortable doing business with us, even if the others didn’t consciously know/acknowledge that something was annoying or difficult.

  5. Diane says:

    Mike, I have a pair of plain black lycra pants similar to your NYC style and I wear them with heels. At 5″11″ my normal inseam is 35″ and to wear with heels requires at least a 36″ length. Most of your customers probably wear them as intended (for working out) but a comfy pair of pants that fit well does double and triple duty especially if they are a plain color without sport detailing. Many tall women today just have long legs and don’t need extra length in the waist or crotch.

  6. Clare says:

    Quote from Vesta:”Many tall women today just have long legs and don’t need extra length in the waist or crotch.”

    Hmmmm….Whispering quietly and keeping her head down – Some of us Do, though!
    Pants designed to fit non-tall people at just below the waist can be positively indecent, not to mention ugly and very Chilly on me unless they have that extra length all through the garment.

    Maybe a good topic for feedback, Mike?


  7. Marie-Christine says:

    Some of us are tall and have -short- legs. But I haven’t seen many tall women who have the exact same rise as the average 5’4″ american. Especially with the low-waisted tidal wave that’s been in force for years now.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Recent research from the Stanford Business School: When Is Bad Publicity Good? An excerpt:

    …bad news isn’t always bad for business. After the movie Borat made relentless fun of the nation of Kazakhstan, reported a 300% increase in requests for information about the country, and a wine described as “redolent of stinky socks” by a prominent website saw its sales increase by 5%.

    In a new study from Stanford Graduate School of Business, researchers say in some cases negative publicity can increase sales when a product or company is relatively unknown, simply because it stimulates product awareness.

    “Most companies are concerned with one of two problems,” says Alan Sorensen, associate professor of economics and strategic management at the business school and one of the authors of the study. “Either they’re trying to figure out how to get the public to think their product is a good one, or they’re just trying to get people to know about their product. In some markets, where there are lots of competing products, they’re more preoccupied with the latter. In that case, any publicity, positive or negative, turns out to be valuable.”

    In other words, with any luck, they will spell your name right (I am rarely so lucky). Also, I don’t recall the famous actress who said this but she said (paraphrased) that she doesn’t believe her good press because then she’d also have to believe her bad press.

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