What’s Really Causing Bad Reviews for Ecommerce Businesses?

  • Written by John Ridley
What’s Really Causing Bad Reviews for Ecommerce Businesses?

Reviews are key to ecommerce success. And bad reviews can be a killer. A lower rating than your competitors can really hurt your brand in your customer’s eyes, causing you to lose sales.

Not only that, reviews can often reveal harsh truths about your operation. It’s not uncommon for potential customers to look through your negative reviews and see if there is a trend that reveals a concern they should have about your business.

With that in mind, we analyzed 1000 Trust Pilot reviews of ecommerce retailers to see what was most likely to lead to a one-star review, both overall and for individual sectors. Now you can know what is most likely to cause a bad review for your business.

We've also provided a methodology for using your own bad reviews to improve your business.

What it most likely to lead to a bad review

The top reasons* customers give one-star reviews are:

  • Late delivery - 40%
  • Unhappy with the product quality - 28%
  • Poor customer service - 21%
  • Having been sent the wrong product - 13%
  • Finding out a product is out of stock or is on backorder - 6%
  • Poor returns or refunds policy - 5%
  • Issues with the website - 2% 

*A single review could have more than one reason. For example, many complained of late shipping and bad customer service

After looking through the data it’s clear that some issues are more likely to lead to customers leaving you a one-star review than others. But that quality of product is only the second most common factor strongly suggests that it is the overall online shopping experience being judged, not just the product itself. 

Two out five of bad reviews complain about late shipping or other shipping errors

As you can see the leading reason isn’t anything to do with product quality, it’s to do with delivery. It’s well known that people expect their online orders to be delivered quickly and on time. This analysis shows just how much of a factor it is in customer satisfaction.

It’s clear when you look at the reviews just how much of a bugbear it is for ecommerce retailers. Many retailers respond to these reviews by pointing out that it is not their fault, but their shipping partner. In fact, many of the reviewers themselves say that their issue is with FedEx, USPS, or UPS for example. But it’s still the retailer that is the one who ends up with the bad review.

However, to lay the blame solely on the shipping company would be unfair. Ecommerce retailers can speed up their shipping by optimizing their own processes. This could be being able to bulk print shipping labels, using rules to optimize which carriers are used and which orders are prioritized, and having a system capable of tracking every shipment and automatically sending out confirmation emails. This last point also helps with communication with your customers and makes it clear that the package was shipped quickly and is now with your carrier. And, letting your customer know the status of a parcel even if it's late could be the difference between getting a one-star review or not.

Almost half of all bad reviews in the fashion and shopping sector relate to late shipping

While clearly not alone, the shopping and fashion sector is where customers are most likely to complain about later delivery, followed by the related beauty sector. It's unsurprising, given how popular the fashion sector is and how customer focussed the big brands are, to see the fashion sector being the one where the shipping experience is judged most harshly by its customers.

One in ten one-star reviews complained about the wrong item being sent

This makes sense, in terms of being annoying to the customer at least. However, it is surprising that sending your customers the wrong item is so prevalent. This is because it is one aspect of the fulfillment process that is completely under the retailer’s control. Therefore, if it is becoming a problem it should be one that is fixed.

While there are ways you can reduce mispicks by better organizing your picking and packing process, the most effective way of getting rid of mispicks is by introducing digital picking. This works by barcoding your products and giving your pickers a barcode scanner to help them make sure they are packing the correct item.

One out of five bad reviews in the beauty and shopping & fashion sectors complain about mispicked items

This is double the average of the other sectors. Suggesting that either this is a more common problem for retailers in this sector or is more of an issue for buyers.

It makes sense that it is the former, simply because of the types of products retailers in this sector sell. Normally there is the selling the same product in different sizes (think a t-shirt that is sold in small, medium, and large sizes) or they have different products that look similar in other ways (such as one bottle of shampoos vs another from the same brand).

Unless you have a very well-optimized picking process, this is a situation that will naturally lead to mispicked items. 

Tools and equipment customers most likely to complain about ordered products being out of stock or on backorder

Perhaps understandably, given these retailers are more likely to sell products that they don’t actually hold in stock, reviewers in this sector were twice as likely as others to complain about out-of-stock products or products being back-ordered. 

There are two ways retailers can deal with, depending on the problem:

1. Better stock tracking and updating

One way customers end up ordering items that are actually out of stock is because sales channels are not kept up to date. Meaning that retailers’ stock is being sold but the number available across all channels is not updated. This is a significant challenge for multichannel retailers, with one in four ecommerce retailers saying they have had issues controlling their inventory when increasing sales channels.

2. Poor communication

Back ordering can be necessary and many businesses do it deliberately. However, If that’s the case retailers should manage expectations. Customers should know that the product is being back ordered and that it may take more time to arrive. Letting customers know in advance is not just a more transparent practice, it could help businesses avoid one-star reviews.

Customers buying for their pets are more likely to complain about product quality than any other sector

It may be that pet owners really do care more about their pets than anything else. Almost half of the bad reviews in this sector cited being disappointed in the quality of their product. This is twelve percent more common than the average overall of reviews.

How to use your bad reviews to improve your businesses

As we said at the start, it’s clear that customers judge a company on the whole experience: not just the product. That’s why it’s important for ecommerce retailers to make sure their whole fulfillment operation is optimized. As annoying as bad reviews are, they can actually help you improve. This is why retailers should:

Analyse their bad reviews

Retailers should be willing to look through their bad reviews and identify trends. This is probably best done by using a process similar to the one undertaken for this guide: read reviews, put them into separate groups in a spreadsheet, and tally which groups have the most reviews.

It would also be wise to record how often these reviews are coming through and/or the ratio of bad reviews to good.

Identify the problem

From this retailers should be able to identify and prioritize the core problems customers are encountering.

Fix your problems

The solution will depend on the problem faced but could include team retraining, reviewing the quality of your suppliers, implementing process changes or utilizing different software solutions to better manage your process.

Track improvements & reflect

Once a solution has been implemented it’s important to check to see if it is working. This is why it’s important to record how often you are getting bad reviews and what the bad review to good review ratio is. Then, after a suitable amount of time, you can go back and see precisely how effective your improvements have been.


To make this as fair an analysis as possible we took the following steps. In total, we looked at 1000 reviews, 100 from each sector.

We went down the list of each company in that sector, using a maximum of five from each company (to avoid one company skewing the results due to a particular floor in their operation).

We discounted reviews where no reason was given, where there was a high chance that it was a user error, where the review was very specific to the company (such as complaining about ATF rules) or an obvious nuisance review.

We hope you have found this article interesting. If so, you may want to check out recent articles on how an ecommerce ERP can help your business, the biggest challenges in ecommerce or our experts’ guide to Black Friday.

If you are having problems and bad reviews related to shipping, picking and packing or inventory management, you should see how Veeqo can help.

About the author


Written by John Ridley

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