Strategies, research, industry trends — your pulse on the marketplace
The   Bazaar   Voice
Strategies, research, industry trends — your pulse on the marketplace
review gating

In an era in which brands live and die by customer ratings, many companies are tempted to engage in a bit of light review gating, aka filtering out negative customer feedback.

After all, retailers and consumers know the importance of product reviews and ratings — 88% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase. As the ultimate in user-generated content (UGC), ratings and reviews are an integral part of building your brand’s credibility.

But when it comes to review gating, we’re here to say: don’t do it.

Review gating isn’t worth the legal or reputational risk — and companies who gate reviews miss important opportunities for growth and revenue. 

What is review gating? 

Review gating is the practice of filtering out negative reviews or only publishing positive feedback from customers. Given the importance of customer reviews for e-commerce — especially for small and medium businesses — many brands feel pressured to use review gating to achieve or maintain a glowing online image.

Some companies even take it a step further by paying for fake positive reviews or attempting to silence potential negative reviews by burying non-disparagement clauses in their terms and conditions. This is thankfully now illegal per 2016’s Consumer Review Fairness Act

The importance of authentic reviews in the digital economy

So what’s better than a perfect slate of 5-star reviews? Authenticity.

It may seem counterintuitive. But sharing the good, bad, and ugly feedback from your customers is one of the most important things you can do for your brand. This is because negative reviews offer a fair counterbalance to positive reviews, which builds credibility with customers. 

Trust us. As a pioneer in the ratings and reviews space, we’ve seen thousands of negative reviews over the last decade — and we’ve witnessed how clients who embrace the feedback ultimately see more success than those who try to avoid it. 

Why do some businesses use review gating?

There’s no doubt about it — with a crowded marketplace and high consumer expectations, brands and retailers are under enormous pressure to maintain a perfect online image. For some companies, especially smaller companies, this pressure can make review gating tempting.  

Usually, this comes from a well-intended — but unnecessary — fear of negative reviews. In our experience, the companies that resist review gating and instead welcome authentic feedback see more sales and customer loyalty over time.

Instead of trying to suppress negative comments, brands and retailers should embrace them as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

The direct consequences of gated reviews

Review gating isn’t just bad form — it’s a real legal risk. Review gating clashes with the Federal Trade Commission’s stance against restricting negative reviews and soliciting biased ratings.

Additionally, companies that gate reviews are likely in direct violation of the terms of service for most review hosting sites. If caught, your business risks having content removed or the account suspended.

Beyond platform penalties, inauthentic reviews erode customer trust. Your prospective buyers expect to see positive and negative reviews. When they don’t, they’re skeptical. In fact, products with at least some negative reviews are known to have higher conversion rates than products with only glowing feedback.

The unexpected benefits of negative reviews

Consider the case of MeUndies. The underwear startup makes it a point to respond to every single one-to-three-star review customers leave. 

“We’ve noticed that plenty of customers would leave a negative review and then would not reach out for help, even though their problems could be pretty easily solved, for example, if they received the wrong size or style,” said Ross Houslander, Senior Retention Lead at MeUndies. 

So Houslander’s team monitors and responds to every review. When a customer sees these responses, it fosters trust and confidence when shopping with MeUndies. Shoppers know that if they ever encounter an issue, the brand will proactively resolve it. By effectively managing negative feedback, MeUndies:

  • Boosted customer engagement with new review collection strategies
  • Fostered long-term loyalty by establishing its reputation as a responsive and customer-centric brand 

How to handle a negative review 

Sooner or later, you’re likely to receive a negative review. When this occurs, stay calm. How you respond is the most important part. Think of negative reviews as direct instructions from the customer on how to earn their loyalty in the future.

When addressed properly, negative reviews can fuel growth. Respond professionally to customer complaints by apologizing for the letdown and outlining a plan to get things right next time. 

By embracing negative feedback and addressing concerns head-on, your customers will notice and reward you with long-term loyalty. 

Review gating isn’t worth the risks

Gating reviews doesn’t just stunt your growth —  it can directly harm your brand. If your ratings are exposed as biased or fake, expect a major backlash from customers. This can lead to long-term or even permanent damage to your brand reputation

The unique vulnerability of small businesses

For small e-commerce brands dependent on word-of-mouth marketing, authentic reviews are even more important. Compared to the robust resources of larger brands better suited to weather PR crises, small businesses usually:

  • Have more direct relationships with customers 
  • Are more reliant on online reviews for sales and credibility 
  • May not have the resources to recover from the fallout of a review gating exposé 

Alternatives to review gating

So, how should a small business handle reviews?

With vulnerability and authenticity. To start, invite and encourage all your customers to leave reviews. Welcome the opportunity to build constructive communication with your customers. And resist the urge to censor or react defensively to negative feedback — there’s a more productive way to respond. 

To build your small business’s authenticity, skip the review gating 

Building an authentic brand starts with reviews. Small and medium businesses are particularly vulnerable to the legal and reputational risks of review gating. But these brands also have the most to gain from constructive handling of negative feedback.

Sharing honest customer reviews is one of the most important things you can do for your small brand. Authentic reviews offer valuable insights into how to better serve your customers, highlight unique growth opportunities, and build your brand’s reputation for transparency and integrity. Ironically, how you respond to your negative reviews can make your positive reviews even more credible to your customers. 

Explore more content on these topics:
authenticityDrive conversionratings and reviewsSMB
Want the latest content delivered straight to your inbox? Join our monthly newsletter.