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Transparency with Context: How Your Negatives Sell

...and Amazon's BIG mistake

· Transparency

Breaking news: Amazon made a mistake.

Before I explain, let's start with this question: Has a 1-star review on a product ever driven you to actually buy the product?

It just happened to me. I was evaluating a piece of software, and the 1-star review that did it for me was: “This solution is optimized for a Mac, and I use Windows!”

Seeing that I use a Mac, I found this person’s complaint to be a perfect reason for me to buy the software.

In 1995, Amazon broke the mold. They started displaying negative reviews right next to the products they were selling on their website. It worked! Negative reviews right next to their own products helped buyers better predict their experience, and aided in making faster, more confident decisions while also lowering returns.

Obviously that sentiment has proliferated everything we buy, do and experience. Good luck trying to find an eCommerce site that doesn't have reviews on it.

And that's when a website is acting as the salesperson. But what about human-to-human selling?

The behavioral / decision science has now proven out that when we, as B2B sellers, lead with our flaws and embrace transparency, it has the exact same effect. Faster decisions. More confident decisions. Higher win rates. Higher client satisfaction.

But it's not the "rating". Simply stating, "Our G2 score is a 4.6 and our competitor's is a 3.9" doesn't matter. Advertising to a recruit that, "Our Glassdoor score is a 4.25" doesn't matter. It's the reviews. It's the context! One person’s complaint could be another’s perfect reason to buy. One person's reason to love a product or service could be exactly the reason you don't!

And, as you've learned from The Transparency Sale, it’s part of the reason why leading with your flaws and embracing transparency works so well in human-to-human selling, too. From a behavioral science perspective, transparency sells better than perfection - and due to the proliferation of reviews, we have to do it anyway!

Amazon's Mistake

Back in September without much fanfare, Amazon changed the way they display reviews.

They have always displayed an overall star rating, but it was based on product reviews. Now, they allow individuals to simply “rate” the product (between 1-5 stars) without leaving a review. So now, the overall star rating displayed includes both reviews AND stand-alone ratings.

With Amazon’s change, because people can leave a star-rating without leaving a review, those negative reviews don’t help buyers in their decision journey. A rating without context is meaningless to the buying brain. We read negative reviews to relate; was the waiter who provided terrible service at a restaurant just having a bad night? Was the vacuum’s unusually long cord difficult for the person living in the small apartment to manage, but potentially great for you in a larger place?

And, they’ve also added friction through their clickable histogram (shown below). It allows you to click on the star rating to read the reviews associated with that score. If you click on “4 star” you’ll be taken to the 4-star reviews to read those. When their are "ratings" without "reviews", you click to nowhere.

To understand this error further, imagine you're thinking about trying a new restaurant nearby. One of your neighbors tried it last week, so you ask, "How was it?"

They reply, "1-star! It sucked."

Would you just end the conversation? Wouldn't you want to know why?

"Well, apparently they weren't prepared for the rush on their grand opening, and ran out of the steak, which is why I went."

I'm not a steak guy...I prefer al pastor. And, they've probably addressed that problem, right? Context! I certainly wouldn't rule out going because of his reasons. But if all I cared about was his "rating", I wouldn't.

IKEA's "Trustpilot" review score is a 2.1 out of a possible 5 from 5,940 reviews. That's horrible! Yet, IKEA continues to be the largest furniture retailer in the world. A large portion of the negative reviews have to do with delivery. If you're not having your furniture delivered, the score doesn't matter!

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had both my first 3-star and my first dreaded 1-star “rating” show up on my book. If you click on the histogram, it shows nothing. So, a shopper wanting to know why someone hated it has no context. And, as an author, I have no means to understand why someone gave it 1-star.

Context matters. Here are two other less-than-five-star reviews on my book:

  • “The only thing I can complain about is that I listened to the audiobook version and couldn't take notes while driving!”
  • “Giving this 4 stars because I wish it was longer!”

If all you saw was the rating, your decision might be different than seeing the explanation.

All negative feedback isn’t created equal. One person’s vitriol for a product or service could be exactly the reason why someone else would love it.

Embrace negative feedback. Collect it. Analyze it. Use it to improve. But even more important, don’t be afraid to share it.

Transparency sells better than perfection!

As you can tell, this change bugged me. If you've read the book, I would LOVE IT if you'd review it. And if you do, give it the score YOU THINK it deserves. Artificially deflating a rating is as bad as artificially inflating it.

As always, please feel free to reach out if you are looking for a speaker or workshop for your organization in 2020, or just want to nerd out on some of this stuff.

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