If you've been leery or dismissive of user-generated content in the past, it's time to get over it. Yes, bad reviews sometimes result in a lost sale. However, reviews increasingly play a serious role in consumer decision making, especially for younger shoppers. Bazaarvoice Inc., along with two research firms, conducted a survey investigating shopping behavior of the millenial generation (which you have the privilege of belonging to if you were born between 1977 and 1995). They found that 84 percent of consumers in this age bracket are somewhat impacted by reviews and 51 percent are more influenced by user reviews than by recommendations from people they know.
Common sense, and past studies, might indicate that bad reviews=fewer sales. However, there are multiple reasons that's not the case. For one, mixed reviews increase trust. A slew of positive reviews, or even just a few extremely positive reviews, suggest unethical meddling on the part of the company. (It's shockingly easy to find someone to write a positive product review for a few cents.) And, as Econsultancy recently discussed, shoppers who seek out negative reviews are more engaged with their purchase research and spend much more time on a site.
Negative reviews can provide useful information about a product that positive reviews may not, since consumers often critique specific features that bothered them. This phenomenon can also increase consumer confidence. As Panagiotis Ipeirotis explained in a talk, summarized on Technology Review, shoppers may think, "if this is the worst this product will throw at me, it must be pretty good... Negative reviews that are specific actually tend to serve as risk mitigators." And all reviews, positive or negative, can provide valuable feedback about what your consumers care about and want to know about your products, if you take the time to listen.
Don't think that you have no control over this kind of content just because you don't have complete control over it. There are honest ways to solicit product reviews and other user-generated content; Search Engine Land has a useful article on that subject. It is to your advantage to encourage customer comments and reviews, no matter their opinions.
Read more about the survey at internetretailer.com.