Polite negative opinions boost sales

Online polite negative opinions can help boost sales, researchers reported in the Journal of Consumer Research. Reading online customer reviews is a convenient way to obtain authentic accounts of other consumers’ opinions regarding a product. The study found that negative feedback that is offset by a politeness factor may help sell an item.

Study authors Ryan Hamilton from Emory University, Ann L. McGill from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Kathleen D. Vohs from University of Minnesota, wrote:

“Most of the research on consumer reviews has been on the content and volume of the message. Our research looks at how the politeness with which a particular message is communicated affects consumer opinions.”

The research team carried out a series of five experiments to determine whether including a marker of politeness in a negative product feedback (review) influences the image of both the product being reviewed and the reviewer.

Polite negative opinions
Polite negative opinions may encourage people to pay a higher price.

Some people soften the delivery of bad news by warning the reader that negative information is coming with such phrases as “I don’t want to be mean, but….” Or “I’ll be honest….”

In one of the experiments, study volunteers were asked to read a one-page-long review of a luxury wristwatch. There were two versions of the product description, with just one having this polite customer complaint “I don’t want to be mean, but the band pinches a bit.”

Polite negative feedback encourages greater spending

The authors found that participants who had read the description with the marker of politeness were willing to pay more for the watch – $136 instead of $95.

Participants were also asked to complete a survey which evaluated the “personality” of the brand.

According to participants’ responses, it was found that products associated with markers of politeness were seen as more wholesome, down-to-earth, cheerful and honest, compared to those with no polite customer complaint.

In the article, titled “We’ll Be Honest, This Won’t Be the Best Article You’ll Ever Read: The Use of Dispreferred Markers in Word-of-Mouth Communication,” the authors concluded:

“Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products—even when those reviews include negative opinions.”

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