Customer reviews are one of the great innovations to emerge from Internet commerce, replacing word-of-mouth as the primary driver of a business' reputation. Online reviews are easily accessible; as a result, they can have an incredible impact on your business. Studies suggest that 69 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Trust is one of the most important factors to making a sale, and a review system encourages this by validating your brand and reassuring new visitors to your store.

To make product reviews work in your favor, the first step is diligence: proactive monitoring, responding to negative reviews and highlighting positive ones show customers that you stand behind your products. Actively-managed reviews instill confidence in users and begin the conversation between customers and businesses.

The specter of bad reviews

Opening up your brand to direct critique from the public is not without risk: a slew of bad reviews has the potential to negatively impact sales. However, bad reviews, if well managed, can actually benefit your business.

Build customer trust

A product page glowing with nothing but four and five star reviews looks good on the surface, but Internet users know better. Savvy consumers will suspect that universally positive reviews are either bought or falsified and that negative reviews have been censored.

They have reason to be concerned: falsifying reviews has become a common practice in ecommerce. Though tempting, this unethical practice comes with a lot of risk. Companies proven to engage in writing fake reviews have been fined in excess of $70K by state regulators, with international governments handing down even harsher penalties. The negative publicity and financial implications of getting caught faking reviews can cripple an ecommerce store, eroding consumer trust in the process.

There can even be repercussions to simply removing negative reviews. Social media and other third party sites give angry customers a platform to voice their concerns outside of your website, and being known to delete reviews does not reflect well on a store's confidence in their product. While there are certainly justifiable reasons to remove negative reviews, such as crudeness, your first reaction should always be response.

Increase conversions

Not only do negative reviews not harm your overall sales - they actually encourage conversions from high-information consumers. One study suggests that customers who go out of their way to read bad reviews convert 67 percent more often than average consumers.

Comparison shoppers like to see all the downsides and flaws in a product before purchasing: if they see that the worst flaws are minor, overstated or simply don't apply to them, it can actually make them more confident in the purchase. Nothing is immune to criticism, and shoppers know to not automatically disregard a product because of a few unhappy buyers.

Jumpstart customer engagement

Instead of viewing negative reviews as a liability, see them as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction. If a customer expresses their unhappiness in a review, respond to their feedback and see what you can do to make them feel better about the transaction. This demonstrates that you take customers seriously and proves that, even if something goes wrong, buyers will be treated properly. Even shoppers know that everyone makes mistakes; if you are at fault, don't be afraid to apologize and offer the customer something for the blunder.If a review is critical of a product feature, you can provide any information to amend or clarify the situation. Sometimes customers point out legitimate flaws, and by acknowledging it publicly, you can engage them and show you're actively working to make your products as great as possible.

Not only is the unhappy customer more likely to return, he or she may post another, more positive review. Responding to negative feedback can show prospective buyers that mistakes are not the norm, and that if something does go wrong, they'll be taken care of.

If a review is critical of a product feature, you can provide any information to amend or clarify the situation. Sometimes customers point out legitimate flaws, and by acknowledging it publicly, you can engage them and show you're actively working to make the best products possible.

Ask your customers

Integrated email automation makes it easy to nudge customers to post a review after purchasing. Leaving a reminder in a customer's inbox is an easy way to increase their chances of returning to your site for a review. Let them know how much you value their opinion.

Show off your reviews

Make reviews a prominent part of your website with dedicated review pages with a clear path from all parts of your website. Pointing to reviews on all of your social media accounts engages more customers and further demonstrates your confidence in the product.

An integrated review system can also have positive SEO implications. With schema markup your reviews can be displayed on search engine results pages, increasing click-through and helping your products stand out in organic search. Links to your reviews also strengthen your site's overall and "review"-related SEO.

If you sell products you believe in and want to build a brand that customers can trust, embracing product reviews will ultimately work to your advantage. You can't make everyone happy, and managing negative feedback tells customers that you stand by your brand and products. Reviews are becoming more important than ever to driving conversions, and by simply including them on your store, it increases your credibility and leads to more purchases.

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