Negative Reviews Up 324% on Amazon

How has COVID-19 affected Amazon reviews?

Have your products been receiving a lot of reviews on Amazon? This year has proven to be an unprecedented year, but on the bright side, sales through online retailers are booming. Amazon.com has posted record sales increases in both Quarter 1 and 2 of 2020. In fact, sales for Quarter 2 (April, May, and June 2020) were even higher than the 2019 Christmas holiday season (Source: Amazon Quarterly report). With Q2 sales on Amazon showing a 48% increase year-over-year compared to 2019, what's going on with ratings and reviews?

Trends in Amazon Reviews

Reviewbox conducted a study of customer reviews in three major Amazon categories: Grocery & Gourmet Food, Health & Household, and Sports & Outdoors. We gathered all reviews and star ratings for the top 50 products in each of these categories, based on the Amazon Best Sellers List as of early June 2020. Some of the top products in each category are:

bestselling products in three major Amazon product categories

In all, we examined over 121,000 reviews of 150 products across two years.

Number of Reviews

Each of these bestselling products received an average of 443 customer reviews over the entire year of 2019. Considering that higher sales numbers often result in more reviews, if sales are increasing, we would expect to see more reviews this year. But how many more?

We’re just halfway through 2020 and these products have already received an average of 576 reviews each, which represents a 255% year-on-year increase. We compared the weekly number of customer reviews of products in each category during 2019 and 2020 to examine the trend over time (Figure 1). The number of customer reviews is much higher in 2020 in all three categories. 

More Amazon reviews were received in 2020
Figure 1: Total number of customer reviews of the top 50 products in each category per week in the year 2020 compared to the same week in 2019. The red dotted line at week 12 corresponds to the week beginning March 16, 2020, when many states began issuing Stay-At-Home orders.

All three categories started out 2020 with more weekly reviews than in 2019, but interesting patterns have emerged. All three categories saw a dip in reviews during March 2020 (weeks 11-14) followed by a quick rebound as Amazon stock levels and logistics adjusted to the increased demand. In Health & Household, there has been a sustained increase in reviews beginning in April 2020 which may reflect a prolonged shift toward buying household supplies online. 

Star Ratings

Many Reviewbox clients have reported not only a flood of reviews in recent months, but especially more negative Amazon reviews and ratings. In general, the majority of product star ratings are positive, as shown below. 

Frequency distribution of Amazon star ratings. More negative Amazon ratings in 2020

However, there has definitely been an increase in 1-star ratings during 2020. Figure 2 shows the weekly trend in star ratings for bestselling products in our three product categories.

More negative Amazon ratings in 2020 for bestselling products
Figure 2: Star ratings of the top 50 products in each category each week in 2020 and 2019.

You can see from Figure 2 that the proportion of 1-star ratings has remained relatively stable throughout 2019 in all three categories. However, around week 12 (March 16) 2020 the number of 1-star ratings begins to increase in all three categories. This surge of low ratings seems to represent a long-term trend in both the Health & Household and Sports & Outdoors categories. So, it may be no surprise if the average star rating of some of your products has taken a downturn in the past few months. 

Customer Review Sentiment

Often there can be decoupling between the star rating and the review text, where a customer might give a low rating because of shipping but still mention that they liked the product. In order to take a more nuanced approach to these negative ratings, we used Reviewbox’s new Review Text Analysis Tool. This tool uses a proprietary deep learning method to classify the review text as either Positive, Neutral, or Negative in its overall sentiment. 

In all, we examined over 121,000 reviews of 150 products across two years. In 2019, about 66.75% of reviews were positive in sentiment and 16.11% were negative. The remaining 17.14% were neutral or had mixed sentiment. In 2020, review sentiment was similar to 2019 up until mid-March, when negative sentiment increased in all three categories (Figure 3). Overall, the number of negative reviews has increased 324% year-on-year! Negative sentiment has continued to increase in Health & Household and Sports & Outdoors. In July 2020, a whopping 26.69% of reviews of products in Sports & Outdoors had a negative sentiment. We'll have to wait and see if this negativity is here to stay.

More negative Amazon reviews in 2020
Figure 3: Percent of reviews each week that had a negative sentiment as determined by the Reviewbox Review Text Analysis Tool. All reviews of the top 50 products in each category were included. The red dotted line at week 12 corresponds to the week beginning March 16, 2020, when many states began issuing Stay-At-Home orders.

It is interesting to note that Google disabled their online reviews and responses during the first wave of COVID-19 in March 2020 as they were seeing a sudden increase in negative reviews as businesses closed. There might be similar reasons for the sudden increase in negative reviews on Amazon. Customers may have had more time to leave reviews this year, and they may be purchasing items that they have never ordered online before. Delayed shipping or supply chain issues may lead to more negative product reviews as well. In addition, the anxiety, depression, and other stresses facing many customers this year could contribute to an inclination to leave more negative reviews.

What can Brands and Manufacturers do?

While online sales are up, so are reviews, and there have certainly been more negative Amazon reviews in 2020. As shoppers shift their purchasing behavior online, reviews will be even more important to the success of your brand. Nearly all Amazon shoppers read reviews before making a purchase, and negative reviews and low average star ratings can be damaging to brand image and hurt sales. 

Does your organization have a strategy for monitoring and responding to online reviews? This is the perfect time to develop a Winning Ratings and Reviews Culture within your organization. Reviewbox makes it easy to monitor and respond to reviews of your products across many online marketplaces, including Amazon.com and international Amazon sites.

With Reviewbox you can:

  1. Be notified of all new reviews and questions
  2. Access and download all of your product reviews
  3. Respond to reviews and questions from within the Reviewbox application
  4. Understand the 'Voice of the Customer' with intelligent reports and analysis

If you have any questions about your online reviews, or to start a free 30-day trial, please contact us at info@getreviewbox.com.